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A while ago, my husband and I were at a bar mitzvah in Toronto, meeting and greeting relatives we hadn’t seen for the better part of a decade.
They were full of wonder – and puzzlement – about where we live.
We found ourselves fielding questions ranging from “What do your children do for schooling?” to “Take me through your day from start to finish.”
Honestly, if we’d been there any longer they might have asked what we do to run lights in our home.
More than 15 years ago, we set off on what was supposed to be a year or two’s adventure, living in the Canadian North.
Arriving in Whitehorse in 1996, we laughed at all the people we met who told us they’d done the same thing as us – 25 years earlier. Yet here we still are, with a house, a dog, two children and a few more wrinkles.
Over the years, initial interest in our “adventure” seems to have moved from amazement to gentle disapproval. What could we possibly still be doing there in the middle of the frozen North, in a tiny city, a hinterland?
This all naturally led me to wonder: “What are we doing in the middle of the frozen North, a tiny city, a hinterland?”
It’s not that we’ve settled down. We’ve spent endless hours deliberating about our next move. Should we go back to the city in which we were raised? The one where we were educated? Or to another southern city, less known to us, but more populated? Should we head overseas?
We’ve spent even more endless hours deliberating why we’re deliberating the question in the first place. Is it for better work opportunities? Family and friends? The future of young minds in our care?
One of the Toronto cousins may have provided the answer to the unintended question. Meeting relatives newly acquired through marriage can be a springboard for conversation and contemplation. When I talked of our deliberations, this smart new cousin said, “Why do you want to move?”
I said, “I’m sure that we are missing things,” and she said, quite simply: “I don’t know, are you?”
I don’t know. Am I?
We have an eclectic group of friends who are worldly, accomplished, intelligent, self-sufficient, interested and interesting.
We have a community that is caring, vibrant and completely lacking in pretension. Who you are matters, not what, in a place where the latest fashions may range from Bogs and Carhartts to Lululemon.
I have interesting work that allows me to try to change my community and country for the better.
We can leave our house and three minutes later arrive at 80 kilometres of freshly groomed ski trails with nothing but blue sky, happy dogs and endless trails ahead of us.
Our children have been raised bilingually from birth despite the linguistic failings of their parents. They attend French school and I didn’t have to camp out all weekend to ensure a spot.
With their entire school, they performed a rendition of The Little Prince when they were 4 and 6 that rivalled a Parisian performance I saw many years ago.
In one day, I can bake cookies with the kids, head into the woods behind my house for a run through the lupins, prepare a gourmet meal for 12, and be involved in strategic planning.
Sometimes being in a big city, or being where you started out, means expecting all other places to be like yours. There is never that expectation here.
People think it is unendingly cold and dark here, and don’t get me wrong, it can feel that way at -40C in the middle of January. But the darkest day in December reminds you that we start gaining light at the rate of six minutes a day to the point that by early March my five-year-old is wondering why she has to go to bed before the sun does.
We may have less light in winter, but the light has a warm, ethereal glow. The crispness of the air at -30 literally snaps. I recall the clarity of the Northern sky when I hit smog-ridden cities on my trips out.
We don’t have good restaurants, but we have foodie friends who prepare incredible meals at the drop of a hat. We don’t have a symphony, but we have time and resources to travel around the world and experience cultures not right outside our door.
We don’t have a Jewish community complete with rabbi, congregation and new outfits for the High Holidays. We do have children who believe the lights on other people’s homes in December are beautiful Hanukkah lights.
We’ve learned that winter is to be embraced rather than feared or avoided, because there is no avoiding it when you live where we do. So we grab our skis, kids and friends and go check out Jessie the muskox at the game farm. We head to the natural hot springs and practise our dolphin dives. And when the eternal light of summer days comes, along with the crocuses, lupins and delphiniums, we marvel at the superhuman energy we feel at 3 a.m. twilight.
We don’t just survive. We thrive.
To be here is to live life deliberately.
Fia Jampolsky lives a conventional life in an unconventional place.
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