Sound travels up from the foot of the mountain, along gentle carvings of switchback and grade, to the rock-terraced garden below the balcony where I sit, baking in the sun. A young doe and buck paw cool, red beds in the cedar mulch, then kneel and lie under the Japanese maple. Their ears turn like small, articulating satellites: weed whacker, school bell, the raw wind chasing trucks on the byway.
I moved through this morning in the usual way: ate breakfast, stepped out to the balcony, drank tea in the sun. The perfume of the garden mixed with the fresh salt musk of my skin is a scent as familiar to me as my own name. Now, I recline in the heat and listen to the valley while the sun beats down. Abbotsford says “hush, sit, tan.” I turn my head and press my nose into my shoulder. Scent of Nancy Drew and summer vacation, bikinis at the flooded quarry, drugstore hair peroxide kits, my sister icing her arms with oil, 20 minute reposition of straps and strings. I turn around, my back to the sun-heft of noon. Keep an even rotation of figure on ground. My skin, marked in fine wrinkles and white dots of lost pigment. Brow squint. Tack of hot vinyl decking. This place blurs into a homogeneity of past particulars: a sense, a whiff, a feeling, a “you know, like…” both now and remembered, at once. I really have no choice but to sit in my tube top minidress and my feet up on the seat of a chair. Rote compels me. No effect of years can alter my track through the door into the sun with a book in hand. This place has programmed me into a pattern of behavior and all I can do is follow and listen, sip and wait.
When it comes to my leaving, there’s no why? in my mind. There is only a monosyllabic, arch-browed wonder lashed abreast an encyclopedic because. It is a question I have answered so often, I have five tiers of reasoning to use at my discretion, depending on who is asking. I left because I wanted a change. Because I wanted to change, and felt that wasn’t possible in a place that had become so familiar, so dictatorial. It sounds simple on one hand, on the other, it is the most complex and puzzling decision I have ever made. The only thing simple about my leaving was the route of the VIA rail car departing from Mission Harbour on the north side of the Fraser river, then tracing it’s tracks east through the mountains onto the dawn spread of prairie, arriving two days later at the foot of Broadway, white and blue in the snow and lights of January, 2007.
If I were to continue, this would quickly become memoir. My real interest is actually the bodily memoir – the habitual activities inherent in places. Stories, recollections, mental deductions only give partial views of a relationship with place. To truly document place I must be in it, and observe myself engaging with it. Do I notice anything? Or has all of the particularity rubbed off from excessive use? Bottom line: it is more difficult to write the familiar that the unfamiliar. Here, in Abbotsford, my senses are on vacation. I can get to the upstairs bathroom with my eyes closed and drive through the city without thinking about traffic. The view from this balcony is just…well…look at it. There it is. The view.
The ability to auto-pilot is part of the practical essence of home, which has nothing to do with value, but comes about as a simple result of time. The soup wells below the food service shelf in the kitchen of The Yellow Dog Tavern. The piss-stinking stairwell to the Portage & Main underground on the TD Canada Trust corner. The clutch, gearshift and steering mechanisms of Dad’s 1994 Corolla. None are places I’d like to live, yet each feel like home. Here, the familiar is so overwhelming, it actually effects my behavior (when entering the house, proceed to the kitchen and open the fridge, if there is salami, eat it). Even the deer are suffering. Having lost their wildness to development, they feast now on a landscaped smorgasbord of succulent perennials and designer shrubs. They don’t even remember how to fear, only to be wary, and even that is fading. Place domesticates, and each does so differently. Here, I tan.