Tonight’s public service announcement.

I would just like everyone to know that Sean is really, truly, great. 

He always listens. He cares about me and my life. He encourages and defends me. He is a truly great friend and brother.

He reminds me that being under-appreciated is worse than being overworked or underpaid, and then he shows that he appreciates me.

And then he makes me laugh with inappropriate humour.

How could I not love this guy? 

  

I’m so glad we adopted each other. I’m so glad he is as happy about that as I am. 

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Philipsburg.

The village of Philipsburg was established in 1784 by Empire Loyalists who moved to Canada from New York after the USA won her independence from the British. 

Two earlier attempts by the French to settle the area had been unsuccessful. The region was named St Armand by the French in 1748.

The Iroquois had villages here in the northernmost part of their territory, and they lived a settled and peaceful way of life. Across the lake were the Algonquians and some Abenakis, living in the southernmost reaches of their lands. 

  
The village was named after Philip Ruiter, a pioneer in the area.

The Canadian authorities were not keen to see settlement here because they felt it was too close to the American border. It’s easy to see why the settlers chose this place, though. 

  
Located on the shore of Lake Champlain among woods on rolling hills and rich earth for farming, Philipsburg offered plenty of opportunities for farming, hunting, fishing, and enjoying a pretty view of the lake from one’s front porch. 

  

Today, Philipsburg is still a pretty lakeshore village with those same opportunities, within easy reach of the Eastern Townships and the cities of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Montreal, as well as convenient access to the US state of Vermont via the border crossing at the Highgate Centre. 

I’ve had the privilege of calling Philipsburg home for only a short time, but I will always love this place. My mornings spent by the lake have been precious times of reflection and serenity, and part of my heart will always remain here. 

A different kind of baptism.

This evening, Sean and I stood on a flat rock, polished smooth by the ocean, and stepped into the cold water together. 

   
 
We only got wet up to our ankles, but we did it! Neither of us had seen the Atlantic Ocean before last Friday. Now, we’ve had a little ritual of wetting our feet in it together. 

We weren’t born siblings, but we did this together to further cement our mutual adoption.  It’s safe to say that we have really bonded in the past five days. 

  
We’ve experienced many firsts together on our short vacation in the eastern provinces of Canada. It was the first time for both of us to visit Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Sean had his first lobster. I fulfilled childhood dreams with Sean by my side. We have laughed and talked and taken photos and blogged and got rained on and visited many new places together. And the meals we’ve shared… Oh my. 

This trip out east has been sensational in so many ways. 

It’s going to be really hard to leave him tomorrow and go back to instant messaging. But we will. It’s so much better than nothing!

Niagara Falls at night.

In continuation of my love affair with Niagara Falls, I returned last night to see them lit up. What an incredible experience!  

Since 1925, the Falls have been lit at night in order to add another dimension to the Niagara Falls experience, and to further highlight the beauty and majesty of the falls. It’s safe to say that both objectives are fully achieved. 

  
Throughout the evening the colours changed from time to time.  For two hours, I watched, mesmerised, as the enormous falls changed colour and continued to pour relentlessly into the Niagara River below. The plume of mist changed colour accordingly, from fiery red to deep purple, teal, green and yellow. In the fully white illumination, the mist created its own rainbow that was almost as entrancing as the rainbow-coloured falls themselves. 

  
Around us, city lights of hotels and towers shone down from above the trees and gardens that line the Niagara Parkway. The casino and the Skylon Tower also changed colours in a neon-like harmony with the lighting of the  falls.  In the near distance, the Skywheel at Clifton Hill illuminated the skyline, vivid white.  Horse-drawn carriages decorated with strings of lights bore people along the parkway.  The Hornblower cruise boat was lit with colours too, as it sailed on the river below the falls.  None of this detracted from the lighting of the waterfalls, though. It was as though all these other lights, and even the illuminated American falls, were merely the chorus in a show where the star was definitely Canada’s Horseshoe Falls dressed in Joseph’s technicolor dreamcoat.   

 
The experience left me without adequate words to describe how I felt. To say that I was awe-struck does not suffice. To say that it was almost a spiritual experience is not an exaggeration.  

All I know is that I will never, ever forget the overwhelming joy that I have experienced at Niagara Falls, both in daylight and with illumination on a beautiful, starry September night. I will always be in love with this place. I truly have left a part of my heart there. 

 

Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls is nothing short of amazing. Powerful, inspiring and breathtakingly beautiful, this is one place that stole a piece of my heart the moment I set foot here eighteen months ago. 

Then, it was at the tail end of winter. There was snow on the ground and parts of the cascades were frozen. There were icebergs in the river. The purity of the glistening whiteness only added to the majesty of the falls. 

  
This time, it’s early autumn and the trees are just beginning to try on the fashionable shades of the season, although the leaves are still mostly green. A blue sky, cheerful sunshine and 24C made for a magnificent day for visiting the falls. 

  
It’s not easy to even get close to describing the falls in words. There is a constant rumble of water tumbling over the cliffs, while a plume of mist rises into the sky from the base of the Horseshoe Falls, the name given to the Canadian side of the falls. 

There are cruises which depart from either side of the falls. The American one is named Maid of the Mist, while the Canadian is named Hornblower. The cruises don’t run in the winter, so it wasn’t an option to experience one last time I was here. This time, though, I was very keen to experience the falls up close and personal, so to speak. 

I donned my complimentary rain poncho and boarded the boat with my friends Sean and Jenn. In the interests of looking all mature and sensible. I said I was excited; internally, though, I was squealing like a six year old on a roller coaster. We set off, and I have a vague suspicion that some of those excited squeals may have escaped as we got nearer to the falls. 

  
What a mind-blowing experience. The power of the water, the tingling coolness of the mist, the overwhelming humility of realising how big those falls are and how small I am, and the joy of being so close to something so magnificent all combined to be almost overwhelming in the most incredibly pleasant of ways.  

 
Later in the day, as we stood on a balcony just above the top of the Horseshoe Falls, I reflected on my love for this place and the exhilaration of the sheer joy that I feel here. I can’t explain it, but both emotions are very real. 

  
This is truly an experience and a day I will never forget.  Niagara Falls, I love you. 

 

Torn.

If people would just stop asking me if I am happy to be back from Canada, I wouldn’t have to keep saying “no”.
Every time I say it I feel torn between my two realities.
And if people would stop looking at me when a sneaky tear rolls down my cheek, I’d really appreciate that.
If people would stop staring at me when it’s obvious I am upset, that would help too.

It’s bad enough feeling the way I do, having to resume life as it was before I left and having tears very close to the surface, ready to roll at any moment, without people looking at me all the time and uttering complacent little consolations like “it’s the jetlag” and “you’ll be right when you get back into it”.

I’m not OK right now. That’s all there is to it. Just let me be.
I’m not depressed.
I’m sad.
There is a world of difference.

It would be so much easier if I were completely happy to be back. But that isn’t how it is and it doesn’t feel as though that’s going to happen. Not yet, anyway.

Now more than ever, I know part of me belongs there.
Part of my heart got left behind.

Home.

The familiar scenery of south-western Victoria unfolds along the drive home from the airport.
Green grass, cows in paddocks, rolling hills. Gum trees line the road and the early autumn sunshine filters through them.

It’s all so beautiful and so normal and I find it jarring that I find it comforting in some way, because I didn’t want to come home in the first place.
Silent tears roll down my cheek.
If anyone notices, I’ll just let them assume it’s because I’m tired or I’m happy to be back.

As we roll into the driveway, I see that my maple trees have their first full autumn colour. They really are beautiful.

My dog runs to meet me. She is beside herself with happiness. Her tail is wagging so hard that she can’t control the rest of her body.
As I unpack my bags, she follows me everywhere. She’s probably making sure that things come out of the suitcase and nothing goes back in.

When I sit down, she is my my side, seeking contact and cuddles and my hand on her head. Then she settles down, puts her head on my foot and goes to sleep.

It’s the first time I am happy to be home.

Quebec #4

Philipsburg, St Armand… Finally.
I have wanted for so long to be here.
It’s a small, quite old-fashioned village. It’s late afternoon on a cold day, so there is nobody about. The crisp air bites at my face as I stand at the shore of Lake Champlain. My mind sees the images of the lake in different seasons that I have looked at so often, taken from this same vantage point.
Today my photographs are of the frozen lake, still deep in its hibernation over winter. I now have a complete set.
The Canadian Legion branch 82 is closed today, but I know what it is like inside anyway.
The church nearby is also closed, but in my mind I see a happy couple and a proud father on the steps, smiling for photographs and enjoying their special day.
I know a number of the locals, although they do not know me.

I take photographs for the memories, but I know I will return. Part of my heart remains here. I’m never really far away.