I always thought the best thing that ever happened in my life were the years of running wild, loose on the Western Canadian Rockies.
I felt that nothing could measure up to the sheer joy I got from feeling untouchable in the cold, overwhelming, mental and physical heights of elevation and atmosphere.
I never planned to leave those mountains. It was fate that brought me back to Ontario, pulling me by my hair all the while screaming “Stop being so damn stubborn”. Fate knew I needed to heal in ways I was not so sure I was ready for, but despite my own inner turmoil, I went.
I had my resentments and my disbelief that anything could possibly make me as happy as I was in the Rockies. I had become what I now refer to as a mountain snob. So caught up in the idea of being a wild, rugged Western individual that I could not see the beauty in where I came from, so much so that I would discredit without ever seeing the beauty that I would later discover to be Northern Ontario.
I used to see myself in a Chris McCandless kind of way, minus coming from a wealthy family and being a man. I was the less well off, female version of the great Alexander Supertramp and there was no stopping me. I would rage like a forest fire in the dry season and I would do whatever I wanted because I was free. Inspired by the words of Chirs McCandless, Paulo Cohelo, Eddy Vedder and Alan Watts, I wanted to forge a path for myself outside of anything anyone else had ever done. Detachment from society was my everyday fantasy, to live like the elk wandering the woods, sustained by nature. I was eighteen then, twenty when I hitchhiked back to Ontario. Some sort of cosmic hand must have been on my shoulder as I lifted my thumb at the side of the road, a backpack on and ten dollars to my name tucked away in my pocket. It was exciting and terrifying hitchhiking but I was lucky to end up in the cab of a very nice French man’s transport truck. His accent was so incredibly thick that I didn’t know what he was saying most of the time but he offered up smokes and sandwiches to me for four days and we laughed together listening to Pink Floyd until the land around us became flat once again.
Here I was, returned to my homeland. A torn romantic vagabond trying to fill a void. My heart telling me to be close to my family, my soul telling me to chase the road once again. I began learning to do both, finding pieces of beautiful nature even in the dreary feeling I had in the cities. I was living city to city at the time moving multiple times a year just for the hell of it but still staying fairly close to home.
I dreamed of freedom but didn’t know where that freedom was anymore. I felt like I would lose myself if I stayed in one place for too long, that the former version of myself would shed and I would no longer be me underneath. I was terrified of becoming a robot, a factory machine programmed to work, sleep, work, eat, work. For years I had watched that be the life of my very exhausted, struggling single mother. It terrified me to think that I would end up stagnant in a two street cornfield town. God bless my mother for the grueling work she put up with to sustain us and still allow us to be involved in sports but that could never be me.
Often confused and still with a fair amount of baggage I moved in with a couple who I grew to view as second parental figures in my life. Tony quickly became the father I had wished for at a young age. He was hilarious, and a no tolerance for bull kind of guy. He opened me up to the idea that maybe I was struggling not because I needed to be free but because I was afraid that if I slowed down I would have to face my inner pain. That I would see the only thing keeping me from being free no matter where I was, was me. He was not wrong, damn his years of experiencing guiding me down the difficult but right path. I spent the better part of two years living with them, occasionally leaving for work as a tree planter or cross-country work I found with Bauer Hockey, thanks to my childhood best friend. This helped with the restlessness but eventually, the topic came up. Tony and I both knew that I had to go back to school eventually, he didn’t care what I did so long as I was doing something.
September approached incredibly fast after my acceptance letter came in. I thought it was a summons for accidentally knocking over a public fountain, it didn’t help that Tony was the one to hand me the letter and he decided to prank me with a look that said I was in deep trouble and in a low voice saying “Sit down, we need to talk”. What a guy.
I cried as I realized what was inside the enveloped marked Sault College, I was going to college! I folded into Tony’s voice telling me he was proud of me, still one of my favorite sounds to this day. I moved to Sault Ste. Marie Ontario completely starry-eyed. Adventure Recreation and Parks Technician, that was going to be me!
The first day I entered into Sault College I had no idea the changes I was about to go through. The course itself was challenging at times as at this point I had been out of school for five years and struggled to get into a routine with studying. I wanted to be a great student but lacked discipline. My teachers were a godsend, showing me how to train my mind and body for the outdoors and for the dreaded exams. I could learn something and apply it no problem but to write it down was my biggest hurdle.
It was here in Sault College that I learned how important it was to never stop learning. That it’s fine to run wild but never again could I spend years of my life avoiding growth just because it is painful. I have laughed and cried in some of my favorite teacher’s offices and realized multiple times thanks to their help that If I didn’t stretch the boundaries of my own mind, I would never be able to reach my full potential.
Sault Ste. Marie was beautiful, truly. I was one of the lucky few that was learning to have fun wherever I was. My classes revolving around the natural environment, local flora and fauna, compassing, and adventure, best of all, Adventure.
Our trips took us to Granary lake, Pancake bay, Robertsons Cliffs and so much more. We kayaked Lake Superior in the roughest of waters and I learned how to Surf on the Michipicotten River.
The experience of college taught me about the beauty that comes from seeing the world with new eyes. I loved being able to identify plants, wildlife, and geology in a way I had never been able to before. I was starting to realize that knowledge was in its own respect, freedom for my mind to run. It was an exciting learning experience and it was even more exciting applying what I had learned in my everyday life. Showing off occasionally to friends who were not Natural Environment students.
The first summer off was the hardest summer of my life as it was the summer we lost Tony. I cried for months trying to wrap my head around death, trying to stabilize myself somehow, wishing it was only just the worst nightmare of my life. Eventually, I began to return to normal and realized that it was okay to feel weak but every day from that point on I was going to try to live in such a way that I could hear my favorite sound once again. His voice the day he handed me that letter saying “I am proud of you”.
Learning to love Sault Ste. Marie for the city it is was something I struggled with more than loving the surrounding area had been for me. I had no idea the gem I had fallen into. It was my first year of college when I met the man I would fall head over heels for that would encourage me to be myself in this city and see what happens!
It was when I fell in love that everything changed for me. Suddenly I didn’t want to be untouchable anymore. In fact, It was quite the opposite. I wanted to be held by love, seen with love and grow in love every day. No mountain top could challenge the feeling I had when I realized it was no fling, or filler relationship while you’re waiting for the real thing to come. This was the real thing. That realization was terrifying and hilarious as the growing pains at the beginning of our relationship scared me as we learned to realize that both of us were committed to this.
He gave me the opportunity to be genuinely stable while still having full freedom to explore different ways I could work in a position I love rather than simply working.
It was his kindness that encouraged me to help in founding PositiveSoo and in becoming a freelance writer, I was able to learn about the community.
Sault Ste. Marie has one of the most incredible communities I have ever been lucky enough to become a part of. The overwhelming amount of people who volunteer their time in this city on the regular absolutely blows me away. I think it is profoundly beautiful that so many people that live here have hearts for charity and community involvement. The majority of people I have met who live here are involved in both their community and are deeply passionate about the natural environment. Being around people who share the same passion of nature and recreation is true freedom. To see people in this city creating and running their own businesses inspires me, and to live in a city that has a Ministry of Natural Resources excites me for the future. I feel blessed to live on the water and hear the boats blow their horns as they pass. I love that chickadees and chipmunks will approach me on Whitefish island asking for seeds from my hands. I love that the parks are full of beautiful paths covered in flowers in the summer and how you can hear people laughing or feel the water chilled air on your skin is on the quiet days. It makes me happy to live somewhere where I can be incredibly social and also where I can escape to the comfort of nature within walking or a short driving distance. It makes me happy to feel welcomed in the Soo.
And now when I think back to my wild days in the mountains reading “Into the wild” religiously a quote stands out to me in a way it never had before.
“Happiness is only real when shared”- Chris McCandless
I always thought the best thing that ever happened in my life were the years of running wild, loose on the Western Canadian Rockies… Now at the age of twenty-four, I realize that the best things to ever happen to me are the ongoing experiences shared with friends and family made along the way. I am grateful to have found a place where I could be myself and that is enough. I am grateful to have a home base for future adventures and most of all for the acceptance, encouragement and overall help in my personal growth I have received in this wonderful, artistic, and natural city of Sault Ste. Marie. I dream of having a home on the outskirts of the Soo and raising my children to be as kind and considerate of others as the people I have met here.