Years ago, I learned to find peace when I traveled, respite from life. Parts of me would come alive when I left my home in Utah and stepped into a new and unfamiliar place, where I could place my feet upon new streets and breathe new air. Travel became crucial for me and for my development, and my soul cried out for it. I traveled to survive.
Now I travel simply because I enjoy it. I like frequent getaways to new places. I enjoy walking and seeing what I can discover.
Saskatoon snuck up on me. It was a word that merely escaped my lips after a stressful day at work, and suddenly I had booked plane tickets for a few months later. And now I’m here, looking out at the expanse of the flat Canadian prairie country and farmland around me. I’m staying on the 21st floor of a tall building, and my view overlooks the river and a few bridges, into the distance and over the city. The skies are grey and I can see the Earth curve on the far horizon.
There is something about being somewhere I haven’t been before, and with a place like Saskatoon it is likely a place I will never be again. The city isn’t particularly magical. It’s drab, all browns and greens and grey and blues that seem muted, like Kansas in the Wizard of Oz. The people are kind, and funny, and go out of their way to be helpful. The architecture is normal. A cold breeze blows across the river. It feels like a normal metropolitan western city, with many of the same restaurants and department stores that I would find back in America.
But for me, it isn’t about the city, it’s about the experiences.
It’s wandering into a city government building to explore and having a long conversation with the security guard about canola farming and the changing temperatures of the northern farm land and the tax incentives for farmers who are looking out for their families’ well-beings generations down the line.
It’s stopping in the tourism office and chatting with a delightful potato bug of a person named Debbie about her passion and love for the city.
It’s stepping into a random restaurant and having a friendly Asian man with much too long fingernails serve you thick noodles in vegetable broth with freshly sliced mushrooms, eggplant, and cabbage, and talking about how good life is with your best friend.
It’s seeing Canadian geese on a Canadian river in Canada.
It’s sitting down and clutching a cup of coffee for warmth as two women loudly cackle while another man rushes into the place looking like he forgot where the bathroom was, and then realizing that look never quite leaves his face.
It’s going out to a nightclub in the late evening and hoping to interact with locals and then leaving two hours later, having been the only ones in the establishment.
It’s repeating a joke to a Canadian woman: “I heard that in Saskatchewan you can watch your dog run away for three full miles.”
And hearing her take it far too seriously: “Well, I suppose, but that is more in southern Saskatchewan, we get a few hills here and there up here.”
It’s complimenting a woman on her niceness, and indeed the seeming niceness of all Canadians, and having her respond, “Well, we are nice, yes, but we are sarcastic too!”
Travel sings to my soul. It takes me to a spiritual place in my own head where I can be anonymous in a crowd and just absorb. I didn’t travel, much, until just a few years ago, and now the memories I can capture in my journal or blog or just in my own head resound within me constantly on a playlist. Ocean Beach and Provincetown and Missoula and Reno and Fillmore and Little Armenia and the Castro and Pike Market. The list extends, and each place brings a smile to my face, though nothing note-worthy happened in any of those places except for long walks and life on my own terms. Community theater, vegan restaurants, saloons, beaches, live music, coffee shops, book stores, and strangers.
Travel releases me. It puts me in tune with myself. It gives me voice. It sings to my soul and through my fingertips. It slows me down and brings me back into my own self.
Yet travel also exposes me. It strips me bare. My insecurities, fears, doubts, shames, regrets, and worries work themselves out of me. At some point on every trip, I feel small and scared. I worry about insurmountable tasks. I think of my children and get tears on my cheeks. I grieve for losses. I think of the unfinished: the book, the documentary, the fitness goals. I shift to gratitude and I wonder if I’ll lose all I’ve gained. But even these parts of me are valid, vital, crucial. They are always within me, the bones upon which I build myself, and it is freeing to feel them there and let them breathe.
When we landed in Saskatoon, the welcome sign said “Saskatoon Shines!” But I haven’t seen the sun yet here. On the first night, the sun was setting, and pinks and oranges blended in with the grey clouds.
“It’s beautiful,” I muttered, and a woman nearby took notice.
“Oh, that is pretty, yes, but we get much better sunsets than that one. That one is just okay. Sorry ’bout that. Keep watching, no worries.”
She apologized for the quality of the sunset. And somehow that single moment captures the essence of this trip for me.
As I type this, the sky is still grey, and river still flowing, the colors still drab.
And the Earth is still curving, and me with it.
Saskatoon may not shine much, but it shines for me.