Hollyhock in summer

Coming home

It was not until I stood waist-deep in Desolation Sound that I truly felt like I was home. The Milky Way stretched across the star-filled sky like God’s wispy white mohawk, and an orange moon rose, The bioluminescence sparkled like a thousand tiny camera flashes around my legs. It was cold, but not viciously so, and my friends and I had just come down to the beach for a quick dip.

Our backs were to the shore, the beach and Hollyhock beyond. I’d come to Canada to attend another Web of Change–my fifth, I think. It was as challenging and insightful as it usually is–a welcome time for conspiring with colleagues and thinking big thoughts.

The evening before I’d had an eerie walk to a party down a dirt road in the dark. I was arriving late, and so walked over alone. The cedars crowded in on either side, leaving just a narrow band of stars to light my way. Rationally, I knew that death by cougar or wolf attack was highly improbable. My lizard brain, however, is not rational. I walked as fast as I could without running. You know, running like prey would.

I then traded the towering cedars of Cortes Island for Vancouver’s towering glass towers. It’s a cliched comparison, but doesn’t driving down Georgia Street feel like you’re traveling through a great, grey forest?

Coming home is always a little odd. It’s not so much the change of language that feels strange, but a shift in perspectives. I live in a warm, rural place, and now I’m a little chilly (despite the gorgeous Vancouver weather–one’s temperature settings change so quickly) and surrounded by skyscrapers and millions of people. The days are suddenly shorter, and the nights never really get dark in the city.

Home also highlights the little foreign habits one acquires. When I’m walking around our village, I greet nearly every person I pass with “bonjour” or “bon soir”. I actively had to prevent myself from doing this during my first couple of days in Yaletown. Similarly, my mind has now switched so that when I see somebody, I greet them in French. In Vancouver, you do that and you just seem effete.

These differences seem obvious, but they’re the ones that matter. Similarly, my fresh eyes observed just how many cars there are on the roads in the city. In our village, the horses and boats nearly outnumber the cars.  It’s like we risk death every time we step off the curb. This was doubly the case for my first trip back from Ireland. I’d trained myself to look the other way when stepping off the curb.

The longer you’re away, the weirder it is. This is my third trip home to North America since February, so the cognitive dissonance was very manageable. We’re clearly not designed to be removed from one place and plopped, as if by disinterested aliens, on the other side of the world. If you did it to any other animal, it wouldn’t survive the afternoon.

Still, it’s always a pleasure to see friends, family and big trees on the West Coast. I return now to France, my bag full of red licorice, Stanfield’s underwear and over-the-counter drugs for which I don’t know the French name.

UPDATE: I’d meant to credit Sarah for inspiring me to write this post after writing about her own homecoming.


  1. Mon dieu!!! Bringing whitey-tighties to Europe, you’re just lucky they didn’t stop you at customs. Let’s just say N.America is a wasteland of men’s underwear fashion and any Carrefour in France could set you right, even their store brand. Embrace the colored, patterned speedo-like underwear, and be embraced.

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