A couple of weeks ago I packed up my tiny ground-level suite in Victoria, crammed as much as possible into my car, then woke up at 6 a.m. and drove clear across the province with my 11-pound Maltese puppy Muppet nesting in my passenger seat.
Things had gotten a little drastic at home. After a one-year internship in book publishing that nuked my brain with boredom and left me despondent and under-stimulated, I was unemployed and had no real prospects until September, when I was scheduled to start my Master of Journalism degree at Ryerson University. The school offered me a sizeable scholarship, but a cross-country move was looking less and less feasible as my various debts started to pile up and I was starting to question whether I believed you can learn about journalism in a classroom.
Meanwhile, I was picturing the epic sprawl, the crowd-pressed sidewalks and the so-called “Polar Vortex” facing me once I hit the Big Smoke. I compared it to the idyllic beaches, the plentiful hiking trails and Narnian vistas surrounding me on Vancouver Island and wondered if I could do without the life-giving energy of my natural surroundings.
I can barely handle the West Coast winters, mild as they are, and I was pretty convinced the combination of cold weather, towering glass behemoths and screaming traffic was going to transform me into a malcontent hermit incapable of going outside.
Then my friend Sam sent me a Facebook message letting me know her position was open at the Nelson Star. I had spent some time in the Kootenays in 2009 as the reporter for the Trail Rossland News, and I’d been itching to return ever since. I had visited Nelson a few times, heard it referred to as the “Victoria of the Interior” and was intrigued by its reputation as a mountain refuge for draft-dodging hippies, marijuana enthusiasts and world-class artists.
As it turned out, my partner Darby (who is originally from Calgary) had been dreaming of moving to Nelson since she was a little girl.
It seems like a no-brainer in retrospect, but I tortured myself over the decision for weeks. Various people weighed in, both sets of parents threw their financial weight behind the whole being-gainfully-employed idea, and finally I decided I had nothing to lose. I mean, really, wasn’t this just a way to vault over the academic queue and land myself in a sweet job before my classmates?
I bet you can guess what happened next.
So here I am. Chances are you’ll see my hair before you see me, and whenever possible I’ll have Muppet ambling along beside me on-leash. I can’t begin to explain how hyped I am about this position, particularly since my editor Kevin has put me in charge of arts coverage, and already I’ve fallen in love with the small-town vibe, the view of Elephant Mountain from my back porch and the fact that I can walk to work in about four minutes.
When Muppet and I first pulled into town, after approximately 13 hours on the road (if you count the ferry trip, which we slept through), she was shaky and fatigued. A brief run-in with Sam’s dog tipped her over the edge, and I found myself dealing with a trembling, terrified, puking dog incapable of being in a different room for more than a moment or two.
Darby has much more experience taking care of animals but wasn’t scheduled to arrive for two weeks and the supernova of love I had first experienced when we first picked up Muppet from a farm on Quadra Island last year quickly transformed into the sort of panicked desperation I’ve only ever seen from parents of small children. Luckily, Sam knew Rob Andrew, who works for the local SPCA.
He sauntered over from his house, gave me some aromatherapy spray, some rescue remedy and a little coat to help calm Muppet down. He talked to her in a cooing voice, gave her some gentle pets and talked me through how to take care of her. And he did this all for free, on his own time.
I’ve never experienced hospitality like that, but I’m coming to realize it’s the status quo in this town. This is my attempt to effusively express my gratitude both to Rob and Sam, because I don’t know what I would’ve done otherwise. And now, weeks later, Muppet’s bounced back and is enjoying tromping around our little neighbourhood. A few times we’ve even strayed into the dog-restricted zone downtown.
(Please don’t tell on me.)
Darby and I are planning on sticking around long-term. I’ve got two half-written novels I started at UBC, and my goal is to get them finished in the next year or two.
We’ll see if I can make that happen. We’ve bought furniture (a first for me), Darby’s been busily throwing stuff on the walls, and already I’ve met most of the people on my block (another first).
Everyone has made me feel extremely welcome, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the rest of you. If you’ve got any story ideas, please send them my way. Also, I’ve started a Twitter handle and you can follow me @KootenayGoon.
I’ve gotta say, I’m pretty happy with my decision.