“If Smithers is home, welcome home.”
I feel a swelling in my chest, not to mention a lump in my throat, as the captain signs off and we begin our descent. Preparing for the forecasted chop, I clutch on my lap Ada Calhoun’s Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, an honest synopsis of marriage and parenthood, and think about my long-term relationship with this remote BC town.
It’s been 12 years of ups and downs—literally, considering this two-hour flight to Vancouver is the quickest way out—with a continuous upward trajectory.
I first visited Smithers in June 2006 for a summer of house sitting. I’d driven 12 hours northwest from my home in Alberta, across BC’s rolling interior and into the Coast Mountains, where I turned onto a ribbon of asphalt leading to a dirt road. In my experience, the best things are found on dirt roads.
That summer was idyllic. I was living on eight acres of pasture and aspen trees, writing when I felt like it, fishing, hiking, biking and yoga the rest of the time. It was easy to fall in love.
If Smithers is home.
When summer ended, I packed my dog into my ’89 Toyota Forerunner and drove the scenic route back to Alberta, visiting friends and researching articles along the way. When I got back, I was alarmed to realize my feelings had changed: the town I’d fallen in love with nine years earlier was no longer home. It had become expensive, crowded and unfamiliar. Smithers, I realized, was the place I’d been looking for when I’d move west nearly a decade before.
In a coffee shop a few days later, a friend gave me this advice: “If you think you want to live in Smithers, you need to spend a winter there.” In December, the town gets a little more than seven hours of sunlight daily. That could be a deal breaker. So, I headed back. And never really left.
The next summer, I bought seven acres just outside town and the year after I travelled back to Alberta to sell my townhouse. I enjoyed several months there, said my goodbyes, and had no regrets when I headed north again, this time with no strings, a truckload of furniture and enough money to build a small dwelling on my property.
From there, well, you likely know the rest: another dog, a husband, a house and a baby. A life busy enough with details to distract from its beauty.
Sometimes I find myself standing in my kitchen, surrounded by the clutter and the fingerprints and the chaos, and it’s suddenly as if I’ve been dropped into someone else’s life. In those moments, its perfection overwhelms me. I see the path that got me here, the pieces that somehow fell into place, and feel an overwhelming appreciation. Then the oven beeps or my child cries or the dog barks and I’m suddenly lost again to the details.
Smithers is home.
I recently caught a flight to Vancouver. It was the first time since I became pregnant, over three years ago, that I’ve been more than a few kilometres from my daughter. Any apprehension dissolved as I sunk into my seat and looked forward to the weekend ahead.
After a two-hour flight and a half-hour Skytrain ride, I was at my downtown hotel, where floor-length gowns swished around the lobby. I shared an awkward elevator ride with a couple — he in a tux and she in a cocktail dress so snug even her slim physique seemed to bulge from it — who avoided eye contact. It made me keenly aware of my ratty old cardigan and dirty down coat.
They seemed presentable enough in Smithers… but were they?
The next morning, in the light of day, the city felt less intimidating. Elegant partygoers were replaced by fatigued-looking families who lounged on sofas waiting for taxis. I roamed the city streets anonymously and, in the evening, met up with a university friend. We went for dinner and then headed back to the hotel, where we drank wine and watched TV from our beds.
“You know,” she said as she turned out the light about 11 p.m. “Back in the day, we would have just been heading out right about now.”
As I huddled down under the covers, part of me wanted to re-live those days of getting dressed up and going dancing; but a bigger part, the part that now prefers mint tea and bedtime baths and family snuggles, was happy to let my two glasses of wine, a cocktail and dinner lull me to sleep.
The trip was a much-needed reprieve from the relentlessness of parenting. But it didn’t change me (aside from a newfound appreciation for avocado toast). It wasn’t magical. Landing at home in Smithers was magical — and not only because it was the only flight that had made it into our tiny fog-congested airport all weekend long.
Like any well-worn relationship, Smithers and I have fallen into a routine. Admittedly, I sometimes take it for granted. I need to get away, to gain perspective, to remember how much I love it. I can’t promise we’ll always be together, but I can’t imagine leaving, either. Travel, yes. But always coming back. Even on the dullest, greyest, foggiest days, I know that Smithers and I aren’t done with one another.