Loving home—and leaving it anyway 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ALYSSA NOEL
  • Photo by Alyssa Noel

Every day for the last week, I've enjoyed a morning coffee overlooking a lake in Northern Alberta with an 18-month-old.

Our ritual went something like this:

Me: Lucy, do you want to go have coffee?

She: Yeah.

Once the plan was established, we scurried around the cabin collecting the essentials: a brimming cup of coffee filled way too full to be carried around a toddler (for me), and a small, plastic orange cup and a carton of milk (for her). Then we headed to our favourite coffee spot on the deck where we sipped our respective cups, cheers-ing and making exaggerated slurping noises until we were "all done!"

Thinking about it now, back at my desk next to my travel mug of coffee, makes my heart ache and my throat tighten.

I love living in the corridor. I love climbing mountains and running around the forest and waking up in the alpine. But I also love my little energetic, brilliant niece and my family.

Every time I return from visiting them I think, briefly, about what it might be like to move back—to trade in high rent for a laughably affordable mortgage, watch my niece grow up, visit family weekly rather than twice a year.

It sounds pretty good. But it would also mean giving up a high-energy, outdoorsy lifestyle that prompts me to think, "I'm so lucky. I've done something right to get here" on a weekly basis.

After all, on the flipside of my picturesque cabin mornings were a few hours spent in downtown Edmonton. During that time, a man riding his bike on the sidewalk ran into me and then—while I was collecting items from my purse that were scattered everywhere thanks to the collision—had the audacity to act angry when I asked if he was OK. An hour later, I was sitting at a window table in a restaurant when the waitress frantically fled across the street where two men were attempting to steal her bike that was attached to a street lamp.

"Get me out of here," I thought.

I share this because I suspect there are many other Whistlerites dutifully making the trip home—many with much longer journeys than my one-and-a-half hour flight—this summer and experiencing these complicated, big-picture feelings afterwards.

A week from now, I'll be sucked back into my routine and this sad, gnawing feeling will be "a million miles away." (I know this because it's followed me back from every trip home since I left for university more years ago than I care to admit.)

But for now it feels like a valuable conflict to sit with. If my family is leaps and bounds more important to me than the mountains, why I am living so far away?

The obvious answer—for most of us—is life is more complicated than that. Sure, there are plenty of people who choose (or are obligated) to live where they were raised, near their loved ones, but that's not the case for 90 per cent of the people who live in the corridor.

We wound up here because, for some reason, it was important for us to forge our own path, experience adventure, or live a little differently than options presented back home.

Maybe our foray into mountain life will be short or maybe it will last decades. Maybe we have to learn to live with this push-pull feeling that comes with wanting to be in two places at once. Or maybe the "push" or the "pull" will eventually win out in a more permanent way.

But until that day, locals can take comfort in one certainty: living in a popular tourist destination means it doesn't take much convincing to get friends and family to come visit the place you've chosen to call home.

And, one day, I look forward to taking my prairie niece up a mountain where we can enjoy a "coffee" and make new memories.


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