Two Tuesdays ago, after work. With temperatures once again sinking below minus 10 I wrap my scarf around my head three times, add an extra pair of socks and carry my bike down 3 flights of stairs (my apartment’s bike stands are cluttered full of half bikes, skeletons left from opportunistic robbers).
Dodging patches of ice, pedestrians and parked cars I cruise down Queen Street, setting sun full in my face, wind wrapping under my helmet, curling around my ears, sneaking through my cocooning scarf.
Onto the pedestrian overbridge that spans 2 motorways and there, turquoise green, choppy and deceivingly infinite is Lake Ontario. I coast down to the cycle path, turn my bike into the horizontal wind, and pedal west. It’s even colder here, the wind whipping across icy water from Niagara, Hamilton, Rochester, Buffalo.
The cycle path is deserted as I push towards the setting sun. In a city of 5 million I find myself in solitude and this makes me laugh out loud: here I am cycling one of the Great Lakes after work on a Tuesday in Toronto! In Canada!
I love these moments, that catch my breath when I think about where I am in the world. It happens less now I’ve been here for over 2 years, but after I first moved here I’d be staring up at skyscrapers from the streetcar, dancing in sweaty basements, buying outrageously cheap blueberries in winter (a privilege of living in a country with land borders) and have a heart-jumping “I’M LIVING IN A GIANT CITY ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD” moment.
13 year old me would be so proud.
But here’s the thing – and I write this appealing to fellow travellers, emigrants – what happens when this feeling starts to wear off? When you start to become a local? How does this feel? Is it replaced by something else?
These are the questions I’m pondering lately. I am feeling like a local in this city now. And this creates some tension. I absolutely love being a new person in a new place. I love starting from not much: a backpack, a vague plan, maybe a place to stay, maybe a tentative lead on a job. From this point of potentiality my life unfolds and 6 months, 1 year in, I look back over my community, my housing, my employment and think, woah! I did that! Look at all the things I am part of now! This feels great!
Then these things start to become more integral to your life. Your job is actually pretty rewarding. You’re hosting events and people know your name. You fall in love. The “I’M A NEW PERSON IN A NEW CITY” feeling shifts to giving people directions, knowing the short cuts, staring past the streetcar junkie with the steely gaze of “I’m not someone you want to mess with…”
So what happens now, travellers? Do you seek out being a new person in a new place again, full of unknown and independence and 13 year old pride? Or do you step up to the next challenge, letting roots sink into icy earth and relationships develop to unknown depths.
Perhaps this is what replaces the thrill of newness, the adventure that accompanies what staying put feels like.