Creeping up on me is an expanding understanding of the differences between Canada and the United States. Some of these differences are rather obvious and have been known by me for an extended period of time. The plethora of American flags, for instance, gracing homes, stores, tops of masts and gardens, or the lower prices of consumer goods, are not-so-subtle ways in which I know I’m not in Canada anymore.
There are other ways as well. I think what I’m feeling now, as I settle gently deeper into this country, stems from the simple difference in population density. Yes, Canada is unique in its swaths of land that stand barren and alone once one ventures a little further North of the 49th parallel. Yet even nearer along it, in Southern Alberta particularly, is no match for the density of people that comes in other parts of the world.
I often regale people who have not much of an idea of the space and sprawl of pancake-flat Alberta the tidbits I picked up one day with a Wikipedia search: Calgary has one-tenth of the population of London, a city that itself is one-tenth the size of Calgary by sprawl. What a bizarre inverse. Given the kind of person that I am, one that isn’t very fond of motor vehicle travel over the much more enjoyable possibilities that walking and biking offer, this characteristic of Albertan cities to be wildly unmanageable without a car is not one I endorse.
And so I enter the culture of Maine. Maine, with it’s New England charm and European ancestry seemingly seeping out of it. Well, to a native Western Canadian, anyway. The harbour of Camden pulls at my heartstrings the same way that Rethymno, Crete, that picturesque town on the largest island in Greece, did. Not only are there cobblestones lining the gentle slopes to the water, the next town over is only about a stone’s throw away. In fact, I’ve nearly inadvertently ran there in my morning jogs. Another flush of motivation would have me winding down the road to Rockport’s library and relic opera house.
Yes, this place sure has a denser population that what I’m used to. I knew that about the place before I arrived, though. And jumps in the number of people living near and around me aren’t a completely foreign experience – I have spent about 4 years total living in British Columbia which, with it’s temperate weather and appealing scenery, attracts a heck of a lot more residents than barren, cold Southern Alberta.
What’s interesting to me is what it is that comes out of an increase in population. I don’t know if it’s that I drove by Don Mclean’s house or the sheer fact that there’s so much to the arts scene here they talk about it in the paper for pages and pages, but the word to describe my experience here is the lack of distance. There isn’t this separation from life. It’s all happening. And it’s happening right here.
Canada sometimes feels like an appendage added onto the myriad of countries that form it’s multicultural heritage. I would hear snippets of things that have significance that weren’t quite able to penetrate the foggy haze through which I groped around to experience the world. Exciting things happened over there, a group of people did stuff in that place, this tradition has meaning because of something a long time ago in a far-away place. Coaldale was certainly not a epicentre for cultural and progressive events or ideas.
Here I get this sense that there are actually things happening, there are actually people living. Ok, ok, I’m a big cynic that seems to have this hate on for Alberta; I am the first to admit that. Yes, I can concede that people are also living in Southern Alberta. They just seem to be doing it in a way that, to my eyes, looks more like surviving than thriving. There is a dullness that emanates out of each giant pick-up truck roaring by, a pale yearning that seeks its voice to be heard with each cookie-cutter dwelling erected in another sprawling suburban neighbourhood, miles from the nearest corner store. The search for life is sought after in different ways than it seems to be done here.
Fullness and vivacity in my internal landscape is easier for me to rifle through when my surroundings hold that same fullness and vivacity. Having experiences of fullness and vivacity is what makes life satisfying and enjoyable and is found in each mundane moment. Yesterday I saw a pink lady slipper in the forest near the shop where the boat is being repaired. This wildflower from the orchid family is a rare and protected plant in the Eastern United States. Its delicate and soft flower graces a plant that takes years to grow from germination to flowering and can last up to 20. The ability to house delicacy’s of nature gives a place more impetus to house the corresponding personality delicacy’s of compassion, understanding and presence. In my experience having diversity of plants, animals and geography extends into a culture giving it a more expanded view of life.
That’s what it is that I find here – diversity in both nature and culture. Diversity in nature that somehow leads itself to allow for diversity in culture. With more people to find what it is they are seeking there are more ways to do so. That exponential increase of ways of life sought introduces this delicious element of people attaining meaning in their lives both a respectful and absolutely different way than others around them. It makes it feel as though life is truly happening, and, not only that, but happening in a way that invites others to do the same.