The Freedom to Explore

As I bid summer goodbye and embrace autumn which has slowly seeped it’s way into my life like tea leaves in a cold glass of water, I think back over the summer gone by.  I try to remember it, but it is all hazy like a Hong Kong sky, the memory hidden in a cloak of time.  Summer did not implanted itself into my memory as strongly as past summers gone by. Work was so busy this year, we had no time to travel and explore someplace new like we usually do.   One work day turned into the next and I barely remember when summer started, or when it actually ended.  It made me miss the summers of my past where I had time to be free.  When days were long, nights were warm, and I spent hours and hours outside exploring.

I believe every child should have at least one summer where they are given a safe space to roam free, explore, and truly be a child.  For me that summer was between Grade 6 and 7.  It was the most exciting summer of my childhood.  It planted roots, a foundation for what was to become a huge part of my adult life.  It was an experience that lingered over the rest of my childhood, hovering lightly in the background, quietly reminding me never ever to forget.

I was on the verge of my 12th birthday, still a child, and nowhere near puberty.  My great aunt Yvonne decided to spend the summer in Quebec with her youngest sister, my great Aunt Shirley.  She didn’t want to take the trip alone, so it was decided I would go with her.    I jumped at the opportunity to be able to leave the confines of my small Western Canadian city and travel across Canada and meet my cousins who were close to my age.

With money being tight, Aunty Yvonne and I boarded a Greyhound bus with a ticket to Montreal.  For me, this was the best way to go, because it meant I would get to see the whole country, or at least the parts of it I could see from the Trans Canada highway. We travelled on that bus for 4 days and 3 nights there, and then again on the return trip back.  I saw the tall sharp Rocky mountains, the flat rolling plain-ness of the prairies that went on and on long after I grew bored.  In Ontario we hit low lying sharp craigy mountains and great lakes that seemed as big as oceans.  We drove through Ottawa, the capital of Canada where Auntie woke me up from my uncomfortable slumber to point out the Parliament buildings we were passing by.  In Quebec the land was filled with huge maple trees and a breath taking simple beauty in the moderatly flat landscape , a beauty not found anywhere else in Canada.  We met Auntie Shirley in Magog our final destination, a sleepy town not far from the US border.  I will never forget Magog.  It was the first time in my life I was in a place where I could not communicate as  I had yet to begin learning French in school.  I was completely and utterly mesmerized by the feeling of being somewhere new, somewhere different, somewhere foreign despite it still being Canada.

We drove by car to their cabin on Lake Memphremagog, a lake that is partly in Canada, partly in the US state of Vermont.  It was at this lake, over the course of the month that I had a summer like no other.  My cousin Leanne and I went swimming in the lake, exploring the water, exploring the shore.  We went wondering through the trees, and walked along dirt roads through the surrounding lands.  We played inside old covered bridges and sat in boats and paddled around.  We had campfires at neighbours cabins, roasting marshmallows and signing songs.  We lay on our backs on the dock at night and looked up at the millions of stars, scanning the night sky shooting stars.  I remember there were alot of stary streaks across the night sky that summer.  Each day was so long, the month I spent there seemed to go on forever.

At the end of the month we drove back to Montreal where we stayed in their grand brick house just off Rue St. Catherine.  I remember standing at the front of their tall brick house looking up awe struck.  There was no such thing as a brick house where I grew up.  Leanne and I took the subway into downtown Montreal on a rainy day.  I had never been in a subway before, or out and about in a city without an adult.  Montreal is so cold in winter, they have built underground passageways, shopping centres, which connects to the buildings above to save people from walking outside in the freezing cold.  It was the second big city I had ever been to, Vancouver being the first, and it was so incredibly different.

When I think back to that summer, what I remember most was the sense of wonder, foreignness, being so far from home in such a strange beautiful place,  learning about a new culture, being spoken to in a funny language, eating different foods, and for the first time in my life being free to explore it all in its entirety.    It was one of the most amazing summers and I knew then I had to experience it again sometime in my future.   It planted a seed which grew in my gut.

That little seed turned into an itch, which turned into a very strong desire, which led me to leave Canada at the age of 18 and plunk myself down in rural Japan for a year.  When I was 20 I backpacked through China over a summer, and travelled to Paris.  When even that became not enough, I left Canada for good at the age of 24.  I have never stopped exploring since then, and perhaps I never will.  But one thing is certain.  This world is a remarkable place.  There is so much to see, learn, and do, if only we open our hearts to it, and allow the experience to happen.  My summer on Lake Memphremagog taught me this, and I never forgot.

It is my wish that every child be allowed to be free to explore a totally new place at some point in their childhood, some place foreign and different, yet safe and allowing.   If every child is given this opportunity, how different would this world be?  How many more open and accepting people would there be on this planet?  How much more would we value our world, appreciate the differences, and strive to take care of this planet rather than destroy it.  This I do wonder.

This blog post was written for Free Write Friday and linked up on Kellie Elmore’s blog, Magic in the Backyard – the topic was “Your ONE Amazing Summer” 

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