Crossing borders always makes me realize how much of a creature of habit I am. No sooner do I arrive than I start to long for what I left behind, a routine called HOME, even if it isn’t the home that I was born from, but a home I’ve planted and grown for the past two years.
But you can’t pack that routine along for the journey.
You leave familiarity, whatever that means to you, like sounds, like birdsong in the mornings, and colours, like the colour of garden green, banana green, virgin bean leaves green; you leave all the sensations of home behind you. You can’t transport the home and the living outside while inside, inside while outside in a Canadian winter climate. Here the birds fly south, the perennial roots hibernate beneath the snow and people go indoors to live their lives, for most of the time, anyways.
And so the sounds of home are replaced by muffled footsteps in the apartment above me, or a slight shifting of snow from outside, melting under the influence of a midday sun.
Alone, writing, loneliness has a sound in my Edmonton apartment. The refrigerator hums, deafening, like static, like a flat line. It’s hard to hear the heart of this place.
But the city is alive; the people – I watch them from my window – moving like black ants along the sidewalk, on their way to downtown offices, coffee meetings and the LRT station. Everyone dressed in black boots and overcoats or shades of white, gray, cream. Have I gone colour blind? I miss more than only the colour green.
The pace looks fast, much faster than where I came from, though people look at the sidewalk while they walk, or eyes glued to their phones. People don’t say, “How are you?” with the ‘are’ spoken in a higher-pitch, like a chime, to emphasis the meaning. Eyes front, everyone. Don’t you dare walk a diagonal line. And no lollygagging, whatever that means.
I tell myself, this is all to be expected. They have a name for my skepticism and longing: culture shock. And it always feels like this coming home to Edmonton’s winter. The cold and the hum and the individuality of the place. You have to hunt out the threads that lead you to community. They’re there, I mean, here, but you have to carefully handpick them.
So I root through old rituals of mine, reconnect with loved ones (who I missed so dearly while away) and type on my computer in this empty apartment, waiting, waiting until a new routine can carry all of the (new old) sensations of HOME again.
But I am not so good at waiting. My hands want to hurry up task. I feel the pace of this place and it seems strange to be so unattached while the world around me has a million other things to do.
And so, an old recipe I know by heart – a few handfuls of flour, a pinch of salt, sugar, yeast and warm water – happens unconsciously. It’s me trying to be me again. It’s old habits, simple desires, resurfacing.
Baking bread is my therapy in Edmonton. It’s gotten me through the coldest months and hardest seasons and loneliest days in this city. The ingredients never fail me. Though, two years without my bread therapy, I do peek underneath the tea towel to ensure my creation is rising up in the dark and sure enough the tight ball of dough has moved like a slow wave, a warm brown froth ready for the oven.
With so much uncertainty in the world (and my world, too) I’m grateful that some things can remain the same. Bread always rises.
The smell of home baked bread fills the empty spaces of my apartment and all the longing for familiar sensations and I feel, almost, smug about this simple accomplishment with my morning. If all else fails – at least the smell of bread provides comfort that I AM HOME.
So I’ll break my bread and share it with loved ones over hot cups of coffee and tea as we tell one another the stories about who we are and who we’ve become and what’s changed and what’s remained exactly the same. And the world inside will slow down again while the city outside moves in a thousand different directions.
And when I’m ready, I’ll join them.