Sometimes you have to go on a date with a supermodel to appreciate the girl next door. When Derrick and I went to Banff National Park last October, I was concerned that being in this iconic mountain landscape that I had dreamed of seeing for so long would ruin me forever for living in Ontario. I’ve loved being in mountainous places in New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Quebec, BC, Oregon - but always I had put the Canadian Rockies on the high pedestal of being my Dream Place, sight unseen. And maybe they still are in a way, but I was also paradoxically given a huge gift in that they made me appreciate home.
And it’s not to take anything away from the spectacular scenery and wildness of the Canadian Rockies. It is impossible not to drool over the eye-candy scenes that are literally everywhere; to enjoy the endless trails; to marvel at being among grizzlies and cougars; to soak up the pure, invigorating air; and to relish the space that we luckily had mostly to ourselves in the post-summer/pre-ski season. It was really, really awesome.
Everyone we knew joked that we’d not want to leave, and prior to the trip I would have agreed that I’d be happy to stay forever in my Dream Place. And it was true that driving back from the airport in Toronto, passing such a high population density all the way to our house, we missed all that great western space. Even on our little dirt road in the relative middle of nowhere, it felt cramped with houses everywhere. And of course we missed the mountains, as we always do when we return from them.
But at the same time I felt completely at peace with being home, and have ever since. For some reason I’m now better able to appreciate the landscape and trails we have here for what they are. We’re lucky in that they are almost always deserted, so we have the natural world to ourselves. We see a surprising variety of animals very close to where we live. Even better, just twenty minutes from our house is the edge of the massive Canadian Shield. Suddenly we cross over into a world that is full of constantly rolling hills, and filled with jutting granite, shining lakes, abundant wildlife, and endless woods.
Happily, our nearby mountain playground of the Adirondacks in New York is also now dosed with more of my appreciation. These ancient mountains are undeniably gorgeous, and such a short drive away for us. And as trail runners, it’s really nice being able to reach the summits of any of the endless peaks with relative ease; every single one we see is fair game.
As much as it is a welcome joy to run trails in new places, it is also getting to know particular trails intimately from countless journeys that is part of what makes a place special to me. I think Leslie helped me realize this with how much she loves where she lives, in Banff. And it’s not about the tourist views; it is about deeply knowing her environment from countless hours spent traveling on foot through it, wandering into the deepest corners until it becomes enmeshed in, and inseparable from, who she is. I took that lesson home with me and it opened my eyes and made me appreciate what I already have but was too dense to see.
The beauty of our Shield-next-door is more subtle than the supermodel mountains, but is lovely in its own unique way. I have always known that loveliness, but coming back I felt something shift as I saw it now with no qualifications or inadequacies attached. As in, I got it, registered it and – as I keep repeating - appreciated it.
It’s a theme that life keeps teaching me over and over in different ways, about feeling okay right where I am. Like peeling the proverbial onion, here’s yet another layer of it.
Heading to Colorado this summer, I’m excited to see the U.S. Rockies and enjoy the serious eye candy with fun new trails. And then come home and run our own serene, beautiful trails at home. And be happy with that.
Just one of many in the land of the tall, freakishly beautiful, somewhat inaccessible, and very photogenic.