31 May-31 Oct 2016. We haven’t had a home for over five years now. People ask us if we ever wish we had a home, if we miss it, and the answer is always a clear no. In all these years four months is the longest we’ve stayed in any one place. I haven’t counted up the number of places we’ve called home over the past five plus years, whether for one night or for four months, but it’s certainly well into the hundreds. Right from the start we learned to recognize that wherever we are staying is home, and home has been a hostel, a hotel room, an apartment, or more than once, a beautiful house. We’ve tented on friends’ rural property for four nights at a time on more than one occasion; home for one night was a Bedouin tent in Jordan; for three nights a cruise boat on the Nile; for eight nights a Galapagos cruise boat. Some of the hotel rooms have been luxurious and some just plain shabby. And of course we’ve stayed with family and friends – in Montreal, in Sweden, in England, and in Australia. Throughout all of this there has been one constant besides each other: Vancouver is our hometown. Vancouver is our official place of residence, but more importantly than that, Vancouver is where we have community. Vancouver is where our long-time friends live.
We returned to Vancouver from La Manzanilla May 31st and stayed for five months. In five months we have eleven different homes.
We arrive late so spend the first night in a hotel. Next morning we move into a West End apartment. It’s the home of the friend of a friend who needs someone to care for her cat for two weeks. Misery. Seriously. The cat’s name is Misery. A black cat that hisses at us and hides under the day-bed or in the cupboard, but comes slinking out for food and water, which we dutifully provide. By the end of the second week we are rewarded with a quick rub around the legs when preparing her food, but apart from that it is all hiding and hissing all the time. It’s one of the easiest pet-sitting gigs we’ve ever had.
Don and I have never been able to actually get to sleep if we’re in the same bed and of course there was only one bed so we raid our storage locker for the foam pads and bed linen we keep there. The only place to set up the second bed is on the floor in the narrow front hallway. We take turns sleeping there though I seem to remember I score the real bed most of the time. Don is a saint.
We always get a rental car when we’re in Vancouver, but from time to time one of the aforementioned long-time friends, another saint, is happy to lend us his BMW, and we are happy to accept. The first morning we’re in town we meet him for coffee and drive away with the Beemer, our wheels for the next two weeks. He’s so generous and such a gentleman. Whenever there’s a chance that we could have the car longer than originally planned he asks: do you think you could keep it for a few more days?
Being in the West End we’re close to famed Stanley Park and walk there almost every day, usually around Lost Lagoon where we find raccoons, swans, blue herons, skunks, wild irises, Canada geese and dozens of goslings.
Saying goodbye to Hissing Misery we move for one week to the guest suite in the building where we used to own an apartment. It’s clean and comfortable and there are no hissing cats but there’s also no kitchen and no Wi-Fi. From our storage locker we collect our toaster, kettle, small portable fridge, and a couple each of silverware, plates, bowls, glasses, and mugs. We’re now set up so we can make tea, coffee, toast, and cold breakfasts and lunches. It really feels like home, especially since we lived in this building for twelve years, know the neighbourhood well, and two of our closest friends live there.
Most days we walk in Queen Elizabeth Park among the gorgeous formal flower gardens,
sweeping lawns, and small forests. At the pond we find ducks, geese, and turtles.
In QE Park, up the top of the hill from the pond, just along from the small quarry garden, there is a circle of eight or ten tall ancient fir trees. They meet and interconnect with their root systems deep underground and with their branches and grey-green needles that form a canopy high overhead. It’s a favourite place. I can stand in the middle, disappear into their unified energy, and remember once again how it feels to be deeply grounded.
From the guest suite we move to the home of friends in the neighbourhood of Kitsilano, caring for their garden while they are away for two weeks. It’s a beautiful, large, comfortable, well-equipped home and we settle right in. In the middle of this two-week gig we collect our tent and bedding from our storage locker and go away for four nights to camp on the land and attend our annual summer Long Dance. Returning to Vancouver we have three more nights in our friends’ house before moving to an Airbnb basement suite back near where we used to live. We are there for three weeks. We walk in Queen Elizabeth Park again, and I am back in my circle of trees.
The basement suite is nicely styled in the ad as a “garden apartment”. And although it is advertised as self-contained and sleeping four it turns out that the second bed is in a shared space. So once again we retrieve the spare “bed” from the storage locker.
The suite is in a house owned by a woman who has a landscaping business. Which may or may not be relevant to the fact that her daughter keeps a beehive down at the bottom of the garden. So one evening we’re sitting on the deck drinking beer and chatting when the daughter says it’s time to check the hive and did we want to watch? Sure! So the daughter and a friend get all suited up and start sliding the frames of honeycomb out of the hive one by one. They check the frame, for honey I suppose, put it back in and take out the next one. Don and I and the landscaper stand watching and chatting from about ten feet away. There’s not much activity at first, but by the time they get to the fifth or sixth frame the bees are starting to swarm. I’m just about to comment on this when two of them quite literally make a beeline for me. No pun intended! It happens in less than a second. One second I’m casually standing chatting and the next I’m fighting off angry bees. Warp speed! Seriously! And they only targeted me! I manage to brush off one of them, but the other gets caught under my sunglasses and stings me just below my left eye. Jesus it hurts! And as the days go by my face becomes more and more swollen. Not a pretty sight but it did eventually heal. But here’s the thing: about twenty-five years ago I was camping on a remote rural property in Australia at a gigantic week-long “Back to the Land” festival; ten thousand people. It was epic! Anyway I woke one morning with a huge swelling under my left eye. I went to the first-aid tent and we concluded it must have been a spider or some insect but since I was still alive it was nothing to worry about. Eventually the swelling went down, but never completely. And here it was twenty-five years later and I’m stung in exactly the same place! What does it all mean?
July 31st we move to another friend’s apartment to take care of her garden while she’s away and then after eleven nights we move to other friends’ beautiful home to house and garden sit until the end of August. They live near Jericho Beach and Park so we’re down by the water almost every day.
Then we leave town for three weeks. We’ve scored a house and cat-sitting gig out in Maple Ridge, about forty-five minutes from Vancouver. And we get the Beemer again for three weeks because the Beemer friends have gone to Europe. The weather is hot and dry. For the first four nights Don has to stay in Vancouver to continue with watering duties until our friends return, while I’m in Maple Ridge caring for the cat and the garden there. It’s the first time we’ve been apart in more years than we can remember. I don’t like it very much. I’m afraid being alone at night because I’m not used to it, and on top of that the cat runs off hunting two nights in a row.
We’ve been given strict instructions not to leave it out at night because of the danger of wild animals, mainly raccoons, so I sit out on the back patio watching Netflix on my laptop, calling the cat, praying for it to come home, and feeling on edge. One night I hear caterwauling next door. I knock on the door but no-one answers. I put on my headlamp and go around the back where I’m staying, climb up onto the compost bin and get a look over the fence into the backyard next door. Sure enough the cat is there but the light from my headlamp scares it away. Sheesh! Well I actually say something much smuttier than sheesh. Several times. Finally after about fifteen minutes it saunters home. By this time it’s after ten o’clock and I’m just thankful it hasn’t been mauled by a raccoon. The next night it stays out until eleven. After that we’re vigilant to keep it shut in from about sixish when we give it supper. Apart from that Beni is a beautiful purring affectionate being that I fall in love with. Even Don is hooked.
I once had a cat that was mauled by a raccoon. This was years ago. I was moving from Vancouver to go back up north and couldn’t decide whether or not to take the cat with me. A psychic friend prophesied if I took the cat up to the wilderness it would be attacked by a wild animal. The friend who was taking over my apartment agreed to take the cat. Two weeks after I left the cat was attacked by a raccoon in its own back yard. It survived but only after extensive and expensive surgery.
Out in Maple Ridge we walk by the Fraser River,
and almost every day in the UBC Research Forest surrounded by trees dripping with moss.
Hmmmm . . . . where am I up to? Oh yeah, it’s now the middle of September and we move back into town to house sit for the same friends in Kitsilano. Our friends like to go away a lot. This time there’s no garden watering required, only a few houseplants to be cared for, including some beautiful orchids.
On October 5th we move to a basement apartment that we rent from a friend until we leave for Mexico October 31st.
During these five months we have lunch or brunch or dinner with family or friends twenty-four times, mostly out, but sometimes we invite people to whatever home we happen to be in. We have brunch or lunch with new friends that we’ve met through the blog: Kelly and Jay, Caroline, Anyes, and Kaye and Larry. We have lunch with friends from La Manzanilla who happen to be visiting Vancouver. We go to five films shown during the Vancouver International Film Festival, and five times to our full-moon drumming circle, one whole day at the Vancouver Folk Festival, a concert by Rising Appalachia, a performance by Simple Gifts Choir because we have friends singing in it, a Bard on the Beach performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor, a friend’s 70th birthday party, a family picnic way out at Pitt Lake, and a picnic on the beach with friends at Whytecliff Park. It’s all go.
And in between all this visiting and moving house we see dozens of healers. We both go to eye doctors and heart doctors – more than once. We both see our family doctor to get referrals and have prescriptions renewed – more than once. Don needs a lung CT scan, and to see a podiatrist for some heinous fungi that he possibly picked up over two years ago when we were in the Amazon. I need to see an immunologist because of the bee sting. None of these issues are serious and all are easily treated. More than once we are told it’s a normal part of aging. But the thing that keeps us really busy is dealing with our injured bodies. We understand that some of it is from getting older, but really it’s mostly from travelling so hard and doing so much over the past five years. There are many many visits to naturopaths, physiotherapists, massage therapists, and chiropractors.
Finally it is all done. We trial pack and discover we can actually fit in all that we want to take with us. We take the rest back to our storage locker. Very early in the morning of October 31st we return the rental car, get a taxi to the airport, fly to Cancun, and get a taxi to Playa del Carmen. We are currently living there in a spacious bright two-bedroom apartment ten minutes from the beach.
Next post: Playa del Carmen overexposed.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2016.