Over the last year and a half or so I have been thinking about why Edmonton does not feel quite right to me. I have this feeling of uncomfortable-ness that isn’t anxiety, and isn’t fear, but nevertheless I do not feel like I belong here. I believe I have finally (!!!!) figured it out.
As I am doing
an obscene amount some reading for candidacy, I am going through the publications of Dwayne Donald*, as they are relevant to my proposed project. Although I have heard him speak these words more than once before, it was not until Saturday that they really hit me:
“who you think [you] are cannot be separated from where you are. This assertion is derived from a central teaching of Indigenous wisdom traditions that human beings are intimately interconnected to the places they call home as well as the various entities—animals, plants, water, rocks and other creations—that have come to inhabit that place” (Donald & Krahn, 2014, p. 123).
Growing up in a rural area (with some interesting [= stereotypical and heteronormatively white] demographics), and spending summers in and around lakes, I spent a lot of time outside. In turn, and with help from books, I came to know the different species of animals, plants, and trees around me. I have a catalog of knowledge about the natural world in my head that as I’ve gotten older have realized is pretty atypical.
When I left home for university, I was fortunate to relocate to a campus that was on a large wetland where you could see deer, rabbits and the like meandering about close to dawn or dusk. If you didn’t happen to see them, if you looked in the right places you could see evidence of them being around, like tracks and scat. When I moved again to start my Masters, I again was close to wildlife–though not quite to the same extent–because of the proximity campus had to the Rideau Canal. When I lived downtown I was able to walk the paths that snaked around Parliament, and that helped me stay connected to the land as well.
Even though Hamilton and Ottawa were not in the same geographic locations as where I grew up, the climates and diversity of flora and fauna were similar enough to what I knew from growing up that I did not feel disconnected. Hamilton was warmer and more rainy, and Ottawa colder, but even with those differences I would still see the birds and mammals I was used to. It made living in a new place familiar in a way.
Now, living some 3000 or so kilometers away, I am very aware of my disconnect from here. I do not understand how the climate works: I’m either dressed too warmly or not in enough layers and the rate at which the weather can change catches me off guard far too often. Winter is much longer here, and I struggle with that because it can lead to my being in pain more often. I have yet to hear or see bats, reptiles or amphibians, and that makes me sad. The squirrels here are of only one species, still scared of people and aren’t the size of a small dog, which is again, strange. I remember when I saw a magpie for the first time wondering if it was some blue jay-crow hybrid, as I had literally never seen something that looked like a crow yet had blue and white feathers. Maple trees don’t seem to like this climate so maple syrup is primarily imported, which is disappointing for my sweet tooth but perhaps not for my waistline. The land here is also pretty flat and is lacking in lakes: trying to orient myself in the city based on where the lake is obviously not something I can do anymore. All of this is not to say that Alberta is without its own beauty and biodiversity, but rather that what is here is so foreign to me.
In order to make Alberta, and this city in particular, feel more like home means I need to spend more time in nature and in the River Valley. I like this idea, and I think it’s completely doable. It means however that I have to do this sauntering during daylight hours, which I have to be mindful of since I prefer to amble around at night (little woodland creatures are less likely to scamper off or hide at night since people won’t be noisy and scare them away). Additionally it means that I have to do good on the promises I have with my parents and surgeon on trying to remain upright as much as possible.
Frankly I wish I had investigated this place more since I moved. Given the premise of a PhD program and my fifteen months of medical hell, however, I did not really have much opportunity to do so. Now that the days are getting longer (and warmer!!!) and I’m getting more and more “recovered” I hope I can spend more time outside in the near future (especially before the mosquitoes come and threaten to eat me alive like the tasty dish I am).
It would be nice though to have someone from here to teach me though. I want to try and move away from book learning if I can because, well, it encompasses most of my week. As much as I love them, I do not need more books in my life (except for fiction – you can never have enough fiction). More importantly though, it’s much better to learn about the land, animals and plants experientially than with help from something static.
*Everyone should read Dwayne’s work because it is so relevant to understanding the current relationship between Indigenous and settler peoples in Canada, especially in
Hellberta Alberta. Everyone should also join his fan club. We’re working on T-shirt designs right now…