August 14, 2007 lia

Prairie Skies

I have often said that Dave and I became close friends over a pint of beer, and Nancy and I became close friends over a bottle of rum.

A week or two after I moved to Matsuyama, Ehime on Japan’s Shikoku Island, a strong off-shore earthquake hit halfway between Matsuyama and Hiroshima. After I restored our dishes to their original shelf locations from the floor of our apartment, I went to the liquor store where they were having a sale on all the liquor bottles that were soaked in liquor from neighbouring bottles that had broke during the earthquake. Having not yet acquired a taste for non-girlie drinks yet [I didn’t start drinking beer until I was 23], and not recognising the kanji for vodka, wine coolers, or fruit liqueurs, I picked up a huge bottle Meyers’ Extra Dark Rum, remembering that I had loved the rum balls my sister had made for me the month before when I was in Montreal.

In our building lived the four Canadian English teachers who worked at Aiko Kindergarten: from the mountainous coastal city of Vancouver were me, my brother, and Ando; and from the Prairies in Medicine, Alberta, was Nancy. I was already good friends with Ando and my brother, but hadn’t really had the chance to get to know Nancy yet.

– I have a huge bottle of Meyer’s Dark Rum that I don’t exactly know what to do with.
– I love rum. I spent several years with a Chilean man, and we went to Cuba together one year and spent the whole visit drinking Cuban rum.
– I’ve always wanted to go to Cuba, Morocco, and India. Why don’t you swing by the apartment sometime this weekend while everyone’s in Kyoto and we’ll drink rum and you can tell me about Cuba.

By the end of the weekend, my imagination was filled with thoughts of Cuba, stories of growing up in a small town outside of Medicine Hat under the prairie skies, and a headache from all the rum.

Nancy is probably my most free-spirited of free-spirited friends, having her own unique definition of success for herself, who is care-free to societal life checklists. I met Nancy when I had first begun my [apparently ceaseless] world travelling, when I was a soul-searching 21 year-old exploring the world in an effort to understand my most useful role in it. Later on in these formative years, I learned to size people up very quickly, judging whether or not we would have anything in common, and pursuing friendships according to my initial impressions. When you live as a nomad, you have to make meaningful friendships very quickly and not waste too much time with people who you think you won’t have anything in common with, because you are often put into situations where you are forced to be friends with people you wouldn’t normally befriend because of geographical circumstances.

In many ways, Nancy and I have very opposite personalities, and I may have judged our potential to have a friendship differently if I had met her now. Nancy approaches the world as a prairie sky — a blank canvas where she can trust that everything always works out in the end, and not needing to force time commitments on incremental stages of career-relationship-home ownership-retirement in some overall life plan of 25-30-65 years old. I am much more goal-oriented, climbing peaks to get the best view, organising my time around known boundaries, dividing time into manageable stages towards some imagined goal, only filling the spaces between these planned edges with spontaneity and impulse.

An illustration of Nancy and my calculated boundaries vs. prairie sky approaches:
– I have far too many interests, always wanting to explore every crevasse, every peak. Constantly un-satiated by what I can see, wondering what’s beyond the next corner, around the next mountain, across the sea. I’d hate to put my children through this some day, so I should marry someone who knows exactly what they want all the time, always satisfied that they can already see everything they need to, so that our children end up as normal people.
– I always figured your genes know: if you have good chemistry with someone, you’ll probably produce good babies.

I caught a lift from Vancouver to Calgary last week to catch up with Nancy and her little Zachary en route back home from the Canmore Folk Festival, but we missed each other in Calgary and so I rented a car and drove across the prairies to Medicine Hat instead. On my three hour drive to Medicine Hat, I was annoyed by how boring the road was, by the country music playing on the radio, by the ineptitude of the Canadian Tire staff not being able to find me an iPod converter so that I didn’t have to listen to the country music playing on the radio, and by the fact that Nancy and I hadn’t met up in Calgary as planned. I love scenic drives and had just spent 10 hours in the car on the Coquihalla, one of the most beautiful highways in the world that dangerously stretches from BC’s coastal mountains to the Rockies, ooo-ing and awww-ing the whole way at one of nature’s most obvious efforts at sensational beauty. The three hour drive across the prairies was feeling much longer than the ten hour drive through the mountains, mostly because of my perceived monotony of the landscape.

One laugh from my little Zach, and one hug from Nancy, and my annoyance had melted away. I spent the next few days in Medicine Hat with the two of them, peeling off layers of anxiety and stress from my schedule of being in so many cities for the last three months. I was enjoying every minute of my conversion to the prairie lifestyle, however short it was. We accomplished nothing, we never looked at a clock, never had to be anywhere at any time, our day revealing itself as we went along.

Contrary to my journey to Medicine Hat, on the return journey to Calgary I was almost overwhelmed by how beautiful the prairies were. Maybe not beautiful in an exciting and glamorous way, like the Rockies or the Coastal Mountains, but in a more under-stated, subtle but profound way. You could almost see the curve of the globe, the land and sky were so vast, un-interrupted.

Nancy’s open-skies attitude and influence have once again defeated my judgmentalism and taught me something about expectations. I rely heavily on my judgments, but sometimes too heavily, and it’s always refreshing to be proven wrong and learn something in the process. Thank you Nancy — you’ve taught me even more than just an appreciation for rum.