Once Upon a Time. We read those words so often as children, but I can’t say I have had the natural urge to use them in relation to my own life. They conjure up visions of other worlds and fairytales. Of times a little larger than life and utterly magical.
But I guess that is to say – I haven’t had the natural urge to use them for my own life … until now.
You see. Once upon a time … there was a place called Banff.
For those of you who have been to Banff you won’t question the validity of me using the much-coined phrase “Once Upon a Time”. It truly is a natural wonder. And for those of you who have not only been, but have lived there, well, you will not only understand, but you will feel those words in your soul.
When I was 10 years old my parents saved up their money, piled us into a Ford LTD, with a trunk the size of my mudroom, and took us on road trip across Canada. My father was a bus driver and my mother was a stay at home mom. We didn’t have a lot of money but my parents were dreamers, and they saved and saved, and they made this 6 week road trip happen for us. It was the best gift I ever received from them. I will carry it with me forever. I know this is where my passion for travelling began – but as I often say, that is another story.
The point of this one, is that one of our many stops across Canada was Banff National Park. While we were there my mom met a young woman from the Maritimes who worked in the town itself. After chatting with her my Mom turned to me and said, with such conviction, “You can do that Karrie-Ann. When you grow up you can come here for the summers to work too”. I never forgot that. And when my university year ended and summer arrived, I high tailed it to Banff remembering being that little girl whose mother told her “you can”.
I remember getting off the plane in Calgary all those years ago. I knew no one. As in nobody. I was 18 years old. I was 5000 km away from home and I was going to be gone for 3 ½ months. I was with no organized group or on any academic journey. I felt so alone that first day.
And then I met two girls. And that was that. I wasn’t alone anymore.
Our summers were endless. They were those summers in between years of school and we were all just discovering who we were going to be in the world. They were filled with parties and day trips and drama and boys and friendships. All of this set in the most breathtaking place you can imagine – with a backdrop of mountains too numerous to count and rivers and lakes so clear and blue you are entirely sure they can’t be real.
We worked on top of Sulphur Mountain and took a Gondola to work everyday. We worked above the clouds. Literally. I mean come on. We were kids from rural Nova Scotia and now we are working in the clouds. Yup. We had the world by the tail. And we knew it. We lived every moment – and I do mean every moment – to the fullest until it overflowed. And when it did overflow we got up the next day and did it again.
There has never been a time in my life that can compare to Banff. It was possibly the only time in my life I ever remember having no real responsibility. My University experience was amazing – but there was still this weight and expectation of achieving something. I enjoyed high school very much, but high school seemed like such a small box we had to fit into. What was so unique about Banff was that there was no box. There were no expectations. There was just this crazy mish mash of people who all shared a little quest for adventure, a little taste for travel and a shared desire to experience more than what was at our front doorstep.
But like every mish mash of people, there are those who rise to the top. And these two girls … well … they were my cream.
Fast forward 20 years to a weekend at a little cottage in a tiny place on the Amherst Shore of N.S. Fast forward through growing up, and broken hearts, and diplomas and degrees, and adventures, and marriages, and children, and opportunities that make you and challenges that break you.
Because there I was.
This past weekend.
Sitting with those two girls ….. because we will always be “girls” ….. reminiscing and laughing and catching up on decades of full, vibrant lives that have happened since our Banff adventure.
And in a way – to be honest – I thought we would be strangers.
But we talked like we did back then. With an honesty and a caring that happens when you have no choice but to rely on each other because you are so far from home for so long. Back when the world hadn’t taught us to filter our feelings quite so much. Because when you are 18 it seems that all you have are ‘feelings’. Feelings and emotions so raw and so overwhelming, bubbling to the surface you feel like you are going to explode.
Yes – there was something about the “realness” and easy-ness to the weekend that surprised me and that I treasured.
Our friendship began before cell phones, Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. Not once during the weekend while we were talking did any of us pull out a device during the conversation and check it. What a gift that was. How rare it is now I realize. There was such respect for each other and conscious listening and sharing – of intimate and real things that had affected our lives over the years. I couldn’t believe that comfort was still there after so long … after all … we didn’t even know each other as adults.
Being with them again was one of the most surreal moments of my life.
These girls reminded me of when I was fearless and young. They reminded me of a time when we seemed untouchable and invincible. Of a time when nothing seemed impossible and the only logical answer to any question was yes.
And I was reminded how some friendships are born – through necessity that turns into something more.
Banff gave me so many things. It helped me realize that the world can be as small as I want it to be or as big as I want it to be. That saying yes can pay off in ways you couldn’t dream of. It gave me a confidence and courage as a young person. It gave me an appreciation for nature and the beauty that exists in the world. It gave me a place to test my wings.
And it gave me these girls. These girls who I felt so uninhibited and real and safe with. Still. After all these years.
They say you can’t go back. I believe that. I do. But this past weekend we didn’t go back. We went to Amherst Shore. And it was such a gift.