Terra Firma aka “Home Sweet Home”

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by L. G. William Chapman

I would prefer to be more interesting than I am. I imagine what it would be to have within one’s grasp the knowledge of thrilling things or places or to have done something extraordinary. As it is I have little to share but what constitutes an unvarying experience. Quite apart from the adage about writing about what one knows and sticking to the subjects with which one is acquainted, I frankly haven’t any choice but to do so.  Anything else would amount to chicanery which I suspect I am not clever enough to advance with a  scintilla of amusement or credibility in any event. So you will pardon me if I keep this simple.

Having made that opening admission and accidental apology I am nonetheless moved to dilate upon what I conceive to be a topic of universal curiosity; namely, the gravity of returning home.  There is no need to circumscribe the debate by limiting it to a return from a stormy voyage; coming back from a night out is the same.  It is always good to be home. I won’t pretend to analyze the possible psychological reasons for this proclivity. I shall, however, share with you the empirical data (best described as I can) which attends the sensation. For those of you who insist upon dissecting the root sources of the manifestation, I leave that insightful rumination to you.

We recently returned from a five-month sojourn in South Carolina where we successfully sought to avoid the drudgery of winter – specifically ice, snow, salt and slush. On the face of it, “wintering” in the so-called “sunny south” is an enviable undertaking (and I acknowledge that it is) but nonetheless, its remedies do not overshadow the worth of being in one’s own home and country. The leveling influence of being on home turf is in my view unsurpassable and I venture to say that many there are who would concur. To call home “terra firma” is for me no miscalculation. Though the technical meaning of the expression is obvious its metaphorical implication is for me similarly compelling – solid ground. While there are certainly those vagabond members of our community who sense no insecurity whatsoever when traveling, I confess that being out of my element invariably leaves me feeling moderately unhinged and precarious. In it most basic comparison, traveling abroad (that is, anywhere beyond the walls of one’s home and the boundary of one’s country) is synonymous with being an invited guest or visitor in another’s home or country both of which circumstances necessitate a degree of nicety and control, maybe even a shadow of caution and restraint. Let’s face it, being in someone else’s living room is a far cry from roaming about in one’s altogether. A visitor is never entirely at his or her ease in the home or resort of another. I won’t linger upon this point except to observe that in the current climate of nationalism and isolationism, a governance of one’s conduct and limitation of expression is not to be underestimated. Even if the posture were not imperative, estrangement is nonetheless an over-hanging scabbard (whether it conceals a weapon or not).

But I needlessly divert my reader’s attention by dwelling upon what is perhaps the irrelevant sensitivities arising from being away from “home sweet home”. My purpose rather is to capture as best I can the warmth which attends the return to the safe and solid ground of home territory. When, for example, we were less than 25 miles from the US/Canada border on Interstate 81 in upstate New York my heartbeat quickened upon seeing a sign “Lake Ontario Watershed”. Not being a geography major (and shamefully never having cared much for matters relating to the Cambrian Shield or the like), the closest I can come to describing the Lake Ontario Watershed is a large pool of water.  What however intrigued me about the sign was that for the first time in five months I was seeing something I recognized; viz., the word Ontario. Granted it may seem a small triumph but for me it was like approaching Narnia or walking through the Looking Glass beyond which lay a fantasy world of my own invention and one which was poignantly familiar.

The drama of the moment only heightened as we crossed the border and switched to metric measurements. There was, of course, a period of adjustment to the conversion but imperceptibly the old habits associated with 80 km/hr and 100 km/hr began to insinuate my being once again and there was an oddly relieving perception, the beginning of a calming process as it were. This truly delightful wave of decompression was, in turn, strengthened as we drove along the very picturesque Ivy Lea Parkway on the north side of the St. Lawrence River whence we were able to glance with what was now a robustly cavalier attitude at our southern neighbours from whom we had so recently departed. We were back on familiar territory, outside the grip of extraneous forces and speculative complications. We had quite literally made it to the other side!

As we rejoiced in our good fortune to have returned so close to home without incident after three days of fixed prosecution, mechanical unpacking and packing of suitcases and going in and out of faceless hotels, performing the ceremonies of breakfast and dinner in chain restaurants, killing time and watching TV in bland hotel rooms between milestones, we were positively garrulous upon approaching familiar landscape and our solace was palpable. By the time we reached Carleton Place it was almost with sudden surprise that we were obliged to turn right onto Highway 17 and head for the final leg to Almonte.  Before doing so, however, we paused at the Gourmet restaurant where we dipped in for a summary but perfectly sufficient soup and sandwich. We knew we would need nourishment to sustain us in the upcoming duty of unloading the car and re-igniting whatever might be required in the apartment.

The moment we turned the key on the apartment door and walked inside there was immediate absorption and comfort.  The sound noticeably muffled.  For the first time in months, we were surrounded by the furniture, clutter, carpets and draperies of our own place. The clocks had yet to be wound but the late afternoon sun shone upon the dark wood surfaces and gemstone colours of our things. We had made it! There followed naturally the work of unpacking, sorting and stuffing things into closets, collecting the latest mail which hadn’t been re-routed and making plans for what to do in the next twenty-four hours, not the least of which was to contact one of my best friends to arrange a much needed rendezvous and gab session.

The following day – after a deep and peaceful sleep – we awoke to brilliant sunshine and blue sky. With no food in the apartment, our plan was to breakfast at Mamma’s Place (which turned out to be a repast nonpareil) then grocery shopping at Patrice’s.

Then it was time to connect with my friend whom I hadn’t seen for over five months. The reunion was like a gas leak!  Non-stop maunder! The warm air and sunshine lent a dreamy aspect to our convention and we slipped seamlessly from one venue and one topic to the next (as I contemporaneously tried to accomplish along the way small chores like replacing a watch battery). We intercepted our whirling travel to stop for a Booster Juice (some green concoction with ginger which both of us like), all the while chattering and summarizing in a flash what had transpired over months. On our way back to Almonte we visited a friend in the quaint Village of Appleton next to the roaring river water. Amid our exclamations of delight to see one another again – and alighting on the pinnacles of activity – we made the usual promises to reunite over coffee sooner than later.

It is axiomatic that home and family are closely entwined. The only reason I had forgone the necessity of prompt communication with my sister and mother is that they were engaged in a meeting regarding my elderly mother’s care and it wouldn’t have done to interrupt the proceedings. So I waited until the next day when I conducted the necessary visits.  As my dear mother said, it was good to have the entire family back together and within shouting distance. We wheeled her out into the afternoon sunshine for a gander at the Rideau Canal and shared memories and photographs of our journey. Even though I had had almost daily correspondence or telephone conversations with my family throughout the entire time of our absence, nothing competes with the tactile feature of togetherness.

I would be remiss not to mention the casual collateral conversations which we have had with people in and about the apartment building, preceded as always by an enquiry about how one wintered followed by a stock discussion of one’s health and the weather, carefully avoiding superfluous mention of one’s increasingly protuberant belly.

It’s good to be home! We complete our submersion into Almonte society this evening by attending a Culture 22 concert at Sivarulrasa Gallery on Mill Street.