I have a very beautiful drive to work. It starts out along a highway that passes farms and forest, ducks down into a plateau where my daughter goes to school near the river then veers north towards an escarpment and opens up where you get your first view of the river to your right. On the left is a mass of steep rock that takes even the most athletic of climbers an hour to scramble up. It is not the Rockies but it is a substantial chunk of boulder coming out of the earth.
The rock stretches on for miles. Depending on the season, it can be covered in sleek, black ice and snow-filled crevices in winter, waterfalls and a canopy of autumn colours in fall, or a canvas of lush green leaves in summer. My route turns off the highway onto a winding, hilly road that skirts alongside the base of the mountain before it spits out on the edge of town. This road goes through one of my favourite places on the planet: the Gatineau Park. This park houses hundreds of kilometers of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails in winter and mountain-biking, hiking and canoeing routes in summer. The fellow that runs our country (the Prime Minister) also happens to have a residence in this park with his very own lake. The place is arguably one of Canada’s true outdoor gems, and is only a 15 minute drive from the Parliament buildings that nest above the Ottawa river in Canada’s capital city.
These roads I know well. They are as dangerous as any two-way highway can be but on a good day when the sun is shining and the weather cooperates, driving this road feels like dancing with a partner you’ve known for years. You know where the curves are, where the car will bump and tilt, where you will slow down for deer, stop to see the Dutch belted cattle or the Percheron horse in the new barn by the mountain. You will see bears, deer, wolves, coyotes, foxes, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, cats, dogs, hawks, eagles and owls.
I do have a fairly long commute – 60km. I leave in the morning with a coffee that I have made with beans freshly ground from our favourite local, fair trade, organic coffee roaster. I will listen to my favourite music, CBC radio or an audio book on CD to keep me company through the drive. Sometimes I prefer silence. It will take 45 minutes. This kind of commute is nothing to be proud of environmentally. I have shared it with neighbours on occasion to lessen the blow. I have a small, fuel efficient vehicle. It is difficult to find work around this farming community - so many find themselves driving long distances to their employment. But we weigh it against the rest of our choices and hopefully, just maybe, we come out ahead. The time it takes is no different than the wait in traffic other city folks are doing across much shorter distances. It is what it is and I make the best of it every single day.
The drive home is a lot more difficult. I am hungry well before dinner and it takes all of my power not to stop at the eateries or convenience stores along the way. I bring fruit. I hope for patience to get me home to a warm dinner at the table with my family. I am also antsy after a day in a chair. I am not used to sitting this long. Today I arrived early to work in order to go cross country skiing in the Gatineau Park during my lunch break. I feel blessed to be perched in such a location. It is a cubicle on the 16th floor and those stairs I took for the first time today are also not so bad.
The people that share my space are exceptional. I don’t know if it is biologists in particular or wildlife enthusiasts in general but these lot are a dedicated, slightly obsessed and quirky bunch. There is coherence between the people here. Their values are similar. Their thinking is in line with mine. I fit in here. And I have missed this family very much it appears. There are parents of older children, parents starting their kids in school as we are, as well as new parents. We all talk about our children. There are keen new students and people on the cusp of retiring after a long career. There are people who go to farmer’s markets or subscribe to Community Shared Agriculture programs. Many have their own gardens. They have pictures of their pets on their screensavers. It is not hard to feel like I belong with these people. Our lifestyles are incredibly dissimilar in some ways but not so much in the way that we see the world. And often that is so very much enough, isn’t it?
I used to fear the structure of a 9 to 5 job. It seemed like a prison to me. How can I do what I want when I am stuck here all day? But then I look again. And in the spaces between I can see how people find themselves in their work here. How I express myself working with these people. The goal? To save species that are in danger of becoming extinct. The method? Oh, sometimes not very efficient, but the efforts are made every day to meet the goal. And very good, hard-working people show up every day to make that happen. And that is so very inspiring.
What I want, it turns out, is to be able to rest now within the structure of a daily routine. One that I was never able to find with farming. Because the bucket has no bottom on the farm. There are no true sides to the barn, to the fields, to the jobs that need to be done. Some thrive on this kind of challenge. Or they learn quickly how to create the boundaries that are required in these situations. I never figured this out. The other thing I want is for my work day to end. I want to know that my free time is my own to do leisure and recreational activities with my family, artistic projects, writing and food preparation without feeling the guilt of thinking I should be attending to something else.
Despite these four walls, I have learned that I am every bit the wild woman I always was. But a wild woman who becomes high on structure and form. One who needs her dance floor to have a lighted area, her fields to have end zones, her mountain climbs to have a destination.
I savour the mornings as I pass the same fences, the same horses, the same trees, the same curves in the road. I return home to the same children running towards the front door, arms outstretched, calling my name with delight. I can handle this kind of predictability. We are all adjusting to a new routine.
Somehow it is as though I have been holding my breath for many, many months. And with this drive, the way things are going, I finally feel as though I can breathe fully into my life without worrying about stones left unturned. The farming bees from inside of my bonnet seem to have flown away for now. My children are safely nestled between their father, their respective schools and our evenings together.
I keep asking myself how I ended up back here. The answer is simple. I took the long and winding road alongside the mountain. And in the words of Robert Frost, that has made all the difference.