This is the 19th of my “Advent Calendar” Christmas ornament posts. For some background information about this project and why I’m challenging myself to complete it, see here. Note: it’s entirely possible some of these memories are inexact, but I’m sticking with them anyway.
They call it the Sea-to-Sky Highway for a reason. You can watch the tides come in along the Stanley Park Seawall while sipping your morning Starbucks, then get in your car and be skidding through snow in Whistler by lunchtime. It took that drive, that two-hour trip from the sea to the sky, for me to finally understand why my sister loves Vancouver.
She moved west a year before I moved south, and it took us all by surprise when she announced her decision. Vancouver may as well have been India – practically the other side of the world. As is probably the case for most families who are given that sort of information to process, we respected her need to shake things up and try on a new city for a while. We supported her wanderlust and wished her luck, but we didn’t understand. She wasn’t moving for love, or for work, and she’d only been to Vancouver once before. Why leave friends and family behind for a faraway place you barely know? We thought she would likely get homesick or bored after a year or two or three, and come back to Montreal with some great new experiences under her belt. But she didn’t come back. She fell in love with the city, and she stayed.
I met up with my sister in Vancouver in October of 2008, and she showed me around her new hometown. We went to her favorite restaurants and cupcake places, watched movies in her apartment, and sat in her favorite spots on the beach. My little sister, all grown up and independent, was doing her thing and making her life in this new place. It was like she’d been there forever. Clearly, it was her element, her town, but I still couldn’t understand why she’d left Montreal behind to settle permanently so far away. Vancouver was a nice, welcoming city, to be sure. But Montreal is welcoming, too, and familiar; why hadn’t she just moved into a trendy apartment in Montreal and become a success closer to home?
We’re very different, my sister and I. Leaving Montreal wasn’t something I’d ever seriously considered, and I only found myself saying goodbye when I fell in love with an American and had to move to make it work. I’m risk averse, I’m cautious, I’m more comfortable when I know my place in the world and what’s expected of me. But my sister has always made her own place, always made the rules bend to fit her better. I think that’s why she had to leave the familiar behind and try something new.
As much as I wish she lived closer, I think I understand why she decided to stay in Vancouver. It’s the sea. It’s the mountains. And having them so near to one another that you can get an eyeful of both with one look up at the horizon. I didn’t see the power of the landscape until we followed Highway 99 up out of the fog to visit Whistler, passing some of the most beautiful views I’d ever seen. I understand now why she’s decided that Vancouver is home. I miss her very much, but I’m glad she’s found a place that she loves, and I’m very, very proud of her.