I am sitting in a room by a window, overlooking a field of grass, dotted with trees. The branches of some cedars reach toward the window, close but not quite brushing against the glass. If I were to extend my arm, I could caress the leaves. The aroma of mint tea envelops me as I close my French-English dictionary. I’ve been practicing asking directions in an unfamiliar language. My practice partner is an ivy plant. It doesn’t tell me if I’m pronouncing words correctly, but it listens patiently.
I’m in Montebello, Quebec, hunkered down in a small apartment, one of many set aside for employees of the Chateau Montebello. I am merely a humble guest here. The building is made of logs. And it’s old, older even than Canada. A few seconds after flushing the toilet, from deep within the walls, the pipes whimper, like a child lost in the ages, still searching for sanctuary. The wooden floors creak, much like the chair upon which I sit. Hot water is slow in coming, forcing me to slow down, to read a book, to anticipate with delight the oncoming shower. This isn’t a place for people who are in a hurry.
We would probably say that this apartment has character. But it also has its own personality. It requires encouragement and love, of which the dweller provides plenty.
It’s been about six weeks since I concluded my walk across Canada for the year. At times, it feels like it happened a long time ago. And sometimes, it feels like it was someone else who did the walking, a pseudo-Dave of sorts, as if I was watching the event from above. When I read my travel notes, I feel like a character in my life story. And in many ways, we really are just characters in our travel stories. As we walk or travel, it is only through contemplation that the path beneath us becomes a narrative. It’s our attention, mixed with our curiosity, that creates the story.
When I was actually walking, focusing on the task ahead, I relished the fatigue, the barriers, and the peril of the journey. But only when I stepped back from it in contemplation was I able to see the story unfolding, to feel the narrative. Carrying an injured raven off the highway was perhaps merely a task, but in the narrative, I saw myself connecting with nature in a way that was soulful and meaningful. My walk across Canada was no longer just a walk, but a salute to the country of my birth. Not just an adventure, but a renewal of the soul. Not just a goal, but a quest for self-understanding.
Since the Canada walk ended for the year, the world hasn’t changed much, but then again, it has changed significantly. I feel those curious visitations of elation, such as when I see a raven, or a radiant flower, or even during the act of wandering down a trail. Although I have driven highway 17 through northern Ontario many times, my most recent trip was surprisingly joyous as I recalled the places where I stealth camped and where I sat on boulders by a lake to write in my journal.
In his inspiring book, The Art of Pilgrimage, Phil Cousineau encourages travellers to “Imagine your return journey as the last act of an epic story.” I sometimes give pause to some of the moments along the walk. And I recall my reasons for taking my first step out of the Atlantic Ocean in Halifax to begin the journey west.
The walk is not yet complete. And perhaps the reasons I started the adventure will not be the same reasons why I try to finish it.
But with all adventures of curiosity and attention, the narrative will write itself.