I have been back in Canada for 10 days now. It has been wonderful. Mostly, I’ve been “cocooning”. I’ve made it a point to have as much solitude and alone time as possible. I have spent some really good quality time with a very select group of people and I have really enjoyed it but it’s also been nothing but bliss to be entirely on my own once more. Last night I stayed in a hotel and I realized as I was reclining by myself on this very big, fluffy bed just how happy I actually am.

I’ve gone back and forth between Alberta and Saskatchewan since I got home. I arrived in Calgary, where I spent several days, then I flew to Saskatoon. I spent a couple of days with my family, and then I had to get home to Lethbridge to deal with various aspects of both my professional and personal existence. Last night I was the guest speaker for the Medicine Hat Horticultural Society (hence the overnighting in a hotel) and then today I had to drive back to Sk. because tomorrow I have an appointment in Saskatoon to see my family doctor. I did not have any anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication on the camino and to be frank, I should have. I really should have. I would have enjoyed myself a lot more if I hadn’t been stressing out about things that were totally beyond the scope of my control. So I’m going to get that taken care of. Then I’m going to spend the next few days locked in a secret location in which I will feverishly tackle the manuscript that I am currently working on. I go back to Alberta I think on the 24th or 25th or something like that. I’m planning to literally just squirrel myself away here with endless coffee while I focus on this writing project and I’m going to get it DONE.

I’ve been very happy to have my truck back and I was also very grateful that the highways have been as good as they have been. I realized that the section of the camino called the meseta looks very much like the stretch of the TransCanada highway that goes from Swift Current to Medicine Hat. It’s actually probably about the same length, too. The camino is 806 km, according to Google maps. From my house in Lethbridge to my parents’ house in Saskatchewan is 634 km. So, basically…the camino is like I walked to my mom and dad’s place and then kept going. There is something deeply satisfying about recognizing the place where you come from and having a feeling of connection to it. Everyone told me “don’t hurry home to the prairies, it will be so cold in November when you get back” but I don’t mind, because actually, I love the prairies. Driving from Sask. to Alberta and all that time on the highway was so delicious. I think the snow is so beautiful. I love how dramatic the seasons are. I have written before about the sublime beauty of soft, muted November light. The light at this time of the year hovers before it actually lands on anything. The light unfolds and collects around objects, as though it were a vapor. July light comes smashing out of the heavens and breaks open over the ground like a shattered pane of glass. November light falls gently, so gently. There was so much wildlife on my drive, and it made me feel connected to my land and it gives me such a strong sense of place.

I love wild animals. I love seeing them do what they do. I love observing these other species going about their lives. There are so many great black ravens sitting on the trees and looking formidable as they call to each other and fly slowly over the glistening white fields. “Hello, ravens”, I say to them. I feel like the ravens and I have been friends for a long time. They are here every winter and have been since I was a kid and long before that. There are magpies too- those beautiful, smart birds that everyone hates. I saw a great many deer on my journey, some with impressive racks of antlers and always they are so watchful and alert. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such large herds of pronghorn as I did on my way to Alberta. The fields were full of them. They are the most wonderful of creatures, the second fastest land animal in the world. (Only the cheetah is faster.) How fabulous that this beautiful creature, so fleet of foot and as orange and white as a creamsicle, calls the dry prairie grasslands home. They have really quite exquisite faces that betray their true heritage- much closer kin are they to the giraffe than they are to the deer family. There must have been 200 of them in the one field I drove past. I love their black horns and their delicate, small sharp hooves and the way they move.

I saw several coyotes, a sizeable lek of sharp-tailed grouse (Saskatchewan’s provincial bird) and two bald eagles. I thought it was too far inland and too cold for them to be seen here at this time of year but apparently not. I saw the first snowy owl of the year, that ghostly white sentinel who watches-always she watches- over the tawny brown fields with her great yellow eyes and there was a young porcupine whose inexperience cost him his life. He lay dead on the side of the highway, struck no doubt by a passing vehicle in the night. I said a little prayer for his soul, wherever it is that the souls of porcupines go. Poor little prickly friend. I felt bad for him.

The jasper coloured twigs of the dogwoods combine so beautifully with the shadowy branches of the wolfwillow, now devoid of leaves and the poplars have dropped their foliage too and stand naked against the charcoal sky. All of it felt like perfection, like the world has embraced the season and like I have a place in it. I am often on the highway, heading here or there to this horticultural experience or that one, and listening to music and pondering all the creatures whose lives intersect with mine. All of these fields around me- once grassland whose absence I grieve for, and yet at the same time now providing us with food and a different kind of beauty. The saffron coloured stems of this year’s wheat emerging in their neat, orderly rows from what looks like icing sugar is strangely peaceful and pretty. The colours have been dialed down now. The earth is quiet as she braces for her long winter’s rest. I am resting too, and I am finding myself again. I have work to do. There is writing to get done and there are adventures to be plotted out. I want to do some Christmas baking. Maybe I will make a pot of soup tomorrow. I haven’t done a lot of cooking or baking or anything like that for a long time. Slowly I make my way back into the world. I am engaging with the land, and with the beings who move about here, and with people I care deeply for. I am not rushing about, I am being deliberate and precise instead. There’s lots I haven’t done yet, lots that I want to do. I’ll get there. Wherever you are this week and whatever you’re up to, you’ll get there too. Let yourself be guided by the season. Feel the rhythm of this snow filled and beautiful place that we live.

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One more mile in my shoes
Oh I’ve walked so many miles
I think I’m gonna stay while
Cause I’m home now
I’m home now
Sold my soul to a new religion
And then I heard my name through the distance
And I’m home now
I’m home now

Those are lyrics from the song ‘Home Now’ on Shania Twain’s brand new album. I have been listening to it all day. Those of you who know me know that I have enormous respect for both her as a person and her talent. I have been waiting 15 years for her to release a new record and she’s finally done so- I was away when it came out and I’ve been dying to hear it for weeks!! This appropriately titled song I think is my new favourite. I am indeed “home now”. Canada is home. Canada with its snow and large cups of coffee and fashionable scarves and soft November light. Canada with its many voices and grizzly bears and multiple freedoms. I feel very blessed and very lucky to be Canadian. I feel deeply grateful that I have been able to go and walk the camino, but equally lucky to have a place to come home to. There are many people who have packed their bags and fled under cover of darkness, knowing they may never have a homeland to return to. One is mindful of these things in airports and train stations. One thinks about these things when returning to friends and hugs and fluffy mattresses and quilts sown by Grandma.

I have returned home a bit physically lighter than when I left, perhaps a bit more focused and intentional in my thoughts, and maybe a little bit more self-aware. I have decided that I am messy and complicated and fragile. I am also intense and angry and unwavering. I am unapologetic about these things. I am who I am. Perhaps the camino lit a spark under me, because while I was out walking I thought about all the ways I’ve tried to modify who I am over the years. All the ways I have tried to blend in and fit in so that I could please others. “Maybe you shouldn’t talk about plants so much because there are those who will find it boring” my inner self has been known to tell me. “Maybe you shouldn’t talk about country music so much, not everyone likes Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. Maybe you should try to be more stylish and work out more. Maybe you should try to be more chill and not get so upset about environmental issues and the climate change deniers. Maybe you should try wearing more brand name clothes and not read so many books.” My sub-conscious has not always been a good friend to me. Be this and not that, it says. Do this but not those. Try to be more of one thing and less of another. Blah, blah, blah it says. On and on. Somewhere along life’s path I made a serious effort to dial that down. Out on the camino I decided not to have any more of that in my life ever again.

I just walked 800 KILOMETERS. That’s a pretty boss thing to do. I feel like I just accomplished something significant and important. It will be interesting to see what decisions I do and do not make in the next few months of my life. Professionally and personally, I’m in a good space. Changes are being made. New projects are coming down the pipe. I have another manuscript to finish, I have a speaking engagement in Medicine Hat next week, and I have two nephews that need to be hugged and played with and told that they are fiercely loved. The camino was beautiful and affirming and dark and significant all at once. Everyone keeps asking me to tell them about my trip. I keep saying “it was really good” and I feel like I’m not really telling them anything at all.