If I only had an acorn for every time I heard those words, or a version of them, over the past year… Eleven and a half months, to be precise. That’s how long it’s been since I wrote my last blog post. What in God’s parched valley have I been doing all this time? Let’s call my hiatus the evidence of enterprise and a new life being fully lived.
Okay, so why have so many been uttering the above? I’ll get to that shortly. First, some philosophical musings…
Adventure is only worth taking when there are ups and downs, and when you have the will to see past life’s vagaries to a satisfactory version of yourself. You might say I’ve been doing my best to live every happy and sad moment of my truth. Look, I didn’t move out here to have a perfect life but to embark on a meaningful journey, so I don’t see low points as a sign of failure. On the contrary, that difficulties offer the greatest opportunities for growth is a cliché I can most assuredly say is true.
I’m now nineteen months into my life in Kelowna and much has happened. Let’s start with this year’s wild weather, which is the culprit behind this post’s title. This otherwise banal topic is worthy of words as it has been the talk of the town. It’s also a rough metaphor for my crazy Okanagan experiences and what they’ve taught me.
Last June went south as the temperature went north, kicking up wind gusts people hadn’t seen in years; some said not since the 1990s. Summer then staggered and lurched along, with the temps straining to reach the 30 degree mark. Not the full valley bake I’d been expecting. The good news was that in lieu of blue we got stunning cloud patterns, fantastic fodder for my Facebook page.
The unexpected events didn’t stop there. I also got engaged last June. To break from our theme here, this was a first! And it was surprise to everyone, including to myself, as strange as that may sound. Yet it was a thrilling time, one full of warm, electric hope and magic.
Then came autumn. Cooler than normal, fall also brought frost to my imagined future, as the climate of my engagement seemed to have changed with the season, causing deep disquiet. I’m not going to open up a vein, just a capillary or two. This is wrap-up, not a rip-open. It’s more about creative closure, to pick up the story where I left off. Sometimes good and well-intentioned people just aren’t meant to be together. I’m quite all right with that. Shit does happen.
So does winter. “I haven’t seen it this cold and snowy in years, maybe decades,” said one 60-something at a client’s Christmas party. “Not the usual Okanagan winter.” He also joked that it was my fault for bringing such inclement conditions from Ontario. I heard that a lot, too.
In terms of my inner world weather, it was at times darker than 5:00 pm on a cloudy December afternoon. I found solace in long walks in the bitter cold, feeling a bit like the movie mobster who escapes to a small town for the quiet life, only to find two hitmen hot on his heels, forcing him to dust off old fighting skills. I can do cold. Emotionally, I did the same: I fought back. I told myself I hadn’t taken a bold and expensive leap westward just to let one rough winter sink me. Screw that.
Light shone. In addition to being buoyed by rewarding work, I felt the friendly embrace of the positive people at Balance Well-Being, an amazing organization I work with. I even got on stage at their marquee event, Storytelling Tuesday, and spoke from the heart with a degree of honesty and vulnerability I would never have shared months earlier. The unwavering support of some great friends, like Murray McEachern, also helped to see me through what became, you guessed it, the longest winter people had seen in years.
But I knew warmth was on its way, as I anticipated the April arrival of my folks from Ontario. They were taking my property, and I was eager to find something smaller and more in keeping with my minimalist habits. I looked to the universe and found, as I had in Toronto, the real estate market clearly hadn’t received the memo. By the middle of the season, the only suitable and affordable condo I could find was a few doors down from my ex-fiancée! Oh Universe, you impish and insufferable monkey!
Then the universe tousled my hair, told me to relax, and introduced me to Angelo Meijers, whose project would challenge my view of myself in relation to existence itself. Brought in to help with his debut book, I was thrilled to be deeply engaged — creatively now — with jumper cables on my journey! This turn of events happened just after I’d found my current condo, which was another gift from the heavens. It also helps when you “know a guy” and you get a tip about a prior deal falling through on financing. The Big U didn’t seem so bad after all.
Work and weather were looking up, as spring pried apart winter’s gnarly fingers… Then it proceeded to fill the gaps with rain. Lots and lots of rain. Work kept pace, as I found myself swimming in projects. This was a good thing, mind you, and so the parallel with precipitation ends here.
The day of my move, as I stood at a bank machine, an old chap grimaced at the chilly grey gloom and said, “I’ve been here for forty-five years, and I’ve never been cold in April! Haven’t seen this sort of thing in years!” Nor had anyone seen the resultant flooding in decades, as the showers conspired with the snow melt and pushed the lake level “over the tub.” The sandbags and the bottled water came out. However, the full effect was yet to be seen.
It also caused an explosive growth of vegetation. In fact, no one had seen the valley so green and lush! Beautiful, right? Only briefly. Later, when summer slammed into us with a sudden, sustained, and scorching heat, the fire demons chortled, “Oh, this is the perfect storm,” and rubbed their hands together with diabolical glee at the sight of all that fresh fuel.
Now I get serious. This has been the worst fire season in British Columbia’s history, burning past the last record set in 1958. And no one has seen this much smoke and ash in the valley since the devastating summer of 2003, when the Kelowna’s south mountains were ablaze and hundreds of properties were lost. Many people have lost homes and animals this year. So I am one of the fortunate ones.
I also feel lucky in other ways that have nothing to do with work or weather, but women. Simmer down, though, this isn’t a sordid tell-all of a latent lothario lifestyle. It’s a reflection on the many interesting women I’ve met through online and old-school dating, and the effect they’ve had on me. Hey, if we the childless and unattached can scroll through Facebook photos of happy families and still feel okay about our solitude, then the least the others can do is acknowledge some wisdom from the single life. I say this with love.
Believe it or not, I have endured the pitying judgment of some family people, who regard bachelor stories as sad, awkward, or somewhat unseemly. On the other hand, many claim to envy us singles and our freedom — our freedom to ponder the possibility of pointlessness on any given day. I simply laugh at the dark humour of it all. Besides, it’s the only life I have. And the figurative grass on the other side can dry up as fast as the literal stuff, and not just here in the valley.
However, what we singles may lack in unquestioned purpose we can make up for in insight through variety. I’ve gone out there and gotten to know my valley. In doing so I’ve enjoyed something as important to a male writer as sex: stories of struggle, tales of trials, and accounts of adventures; and the welcome willingness of middle-aged women to laugh at dirty jokes, which is a true delight to hear. Mature women rock, I tell you! That’s right, Helen Mirren isn’t the only one.
Over the past months, these fierce female friends have sat or walked with me, and I now see them not as mere “dates” but as cherished contemporaries and comrades. What I’ve come to learn through these exchanges is no one gets this far in life without cuts and bruises, or worse. And yet here we are, holding out hope for happiness or maybe some connection through a quick coffee and conversation. I continue to seek.
At their lightest, these meet-ups are the adult equivalent of going for a Popsicle with the girl down the road. At their most profound, these experiences give me a glimpse into the soul of my generation. The fear we feel about going into a less-than-sufficient retirement is only intensified when you’re alone. And in almost every case is the palpable yearning for peace of mind and meaning that lurks in the restless hearts of so many of us who find ourselves back out in the cold. I can see it in their eyes. I have it too. But I’m finding my path. The journey continues.
What does the future have in store for me, romantically or otherwise? I have no idea. I do know that embracing uncertainty is a required skill at any age, if you’re going to stay resilient. And when you’re 51 and find yourself unmarried and without children, you’ve earned the right to call yourself an existential warrior, as you smile at the sneering face of futility and say, “I’m still here, you SOB, and I’m doing just fine, because you can’t kill my soul nor destroy the wonder of waking into a new day!” But there’s something softer beneath my tough talk.
This is what the past year has taught me: never surrender hope, the capacity to love, or the willingness to feel joy in the moment. And learn to lighten up, for crying out loud, because the “mid” we use to describe this time in life is really a load of baloney. It’s more than half over, let’s face it, despite what I may tell myself. So I’ve learned, as Kevin Costner’s character says in Bull Durham, to just “be.”
Be like a kid again, walk with the universe, and take a load off.
And yes, it’s also been years since…