From Brooklyn to Pennsylvania to Indiana to Missouri to Oklahoma to New Mexico to Colorado.
Montreal held for them all the promise of excitement and adventure, especially to ring in a year's new beginning. The city had long been beckoning, such a short distance into completely new territory, a city holding untold treasure and charm.
It was funny to drive so little and end up in such an unfamiliar place: the curiosities of a foreign country uncovered from the comfort of their own Jeep. It made them consider what one is really looking for in a journey to a city that is not his own. And with that in mind, they set out each day, not necessarily trying to dig up hidden gems the locals like to keep for themselves, rather just allowing themselves to be drawn in by whatever might catch any other tourists' eyes: stately government buildings; ornate churches; side streets dressed in cobblestones and lights; an Olympic Park turned museum (which granted the added bonus of shield from the cold).
Montreal gave them a taste of something different, something they'd been craving; and yet it ironically made them think about home. To start the year, they were already refining the definition of that word. Maybe it changes as they change. Maybe it has always been what it is and they are growing into it. Still in Montreal, they paused to consider all of the places they have called home, other places they might one day give that name, and what they perhaps took for granted in each space. What did they allow their eyes to glaze over simply because to be awed by it was cliché or too easy? But home should be easy. Home should be a breath of fresh air.
This gloriously French city was monumental and subtle; it was impressive and comfortable. As the snow trickled through the air each day, it blanketed the town in quietness. It covered the streets with pure white and gave everyone reason to rest. What more could you want for the start of the new year?
We rented this one-bedroom flat in Old Montreal through Europa via Airbnb, and would highly recommend the space. It was beautifully furnished, immaculately clean, and a comfortable home-away-from-home (a great asset when traveling to a frigid location with small children). Old Montreal is a bit touristy, perhaps; but there were plenty of restaurants and amenities nearby and it was a quick walk around the corner to the Notre Dame basilica.
We dined-in most meals, using the kitchen or nearby carry-out spots; but we made sure not to miss Montreal's famous Fairmount Bagels and samplings of poutine. We also picked up a few grocery items and fell in love with these cookies.
We made sure to view the nativity and lights outside of Notre Dame and attend mass. Even if you are not religious, to sit and listen to the choir while taking in the intricate and gorgeous interior is well worth your time on a Sunday morning.
The 1976 Olympic Park has been converted into a museum and tourist attraction, including a biodome (that functions like a nature museum) which was geared toward families with young children. You can also ride the funicular to the top of the tower for exceptional 360-degree views of the city.
A drive to the top of Mount Royal is worth the view, especially at dusk. There are turn-offs to park and lookout over the city, which, if you're lucky and have caught a fresh snow, are also excellent starting points for a walk through frosted trees and up to the icicle drenched cliffs. The park boasts plenty of green space with designated areas for sledding, hiking, cross-country skiing, and ice skating. There is also a beautiful old cemetery off of the park.
You will never forget the day he told you there would be a surprise trip, and how, in the end, it would pale in comparison to the way you felt when you learned the surprise. Because to be mysteriously whisked away is one thing; but to have your dreams fulfilled by one who made sure he was listening to them, well, that's another thing entirely.
You will see the Northern Lights--three nights!--and they will be as allusive to description as they are to documentation. So you will stare at the sky until your neck hurts, willing your mind to at least commit the sight to memory. And you'll think, maybe it's okay to not be able to share such a phenomenon. Maybe these are the sorts of things a Creator leaves as love notes to those who seek and find them.
You'll giggle as you struggle to pronounce the names of regions and towns and landmarks that he'd been studying for months. You'll marvel at how he is so at ease, wherever he goes, yet how that does not stop him from being awestruck like a child. You'll watch him share in this wonder with your children.
You'll be happily reminded at the strange warmth of Europeans, quickly turning strangers into friends, and curiously, graciously, settling into all the homey parts of such a special place. You'll be exposed to new art and indescribable scenery and even local recipes--which he cooks in the cozy cabin by the sea that he booked for you.
You'll feel reenergized seeing the world, reminded of what it does to you to get out and go and do and explore. But you'll also realize how at home you'll feel, and you'll know that has nothing to do with the adventure girl you once were, and everything to do with the pack you move in and how they are always your home, wherever you are.
It's funny to go back there. To remember what they said. To recall my awkward stages. To see those faces. To stand there feeling mostly lost, and think, "This isn't me at all."
Except it is exactly me because it made me.
Maybe we are nearly strangers to each other now, and maybe the pieces don't fit together the same; but there is a time that still lives in my heart and in the way I move my hands. There it is when the car picks up speed and we hit that little country bridge on that little country road and the wind flaps my hair while I look out over the inch-high corn. I find it in the way I dance. It is the way I see the world, in a sense.
I used GPS to navigate from the north side down 65 and to the Greenwood exit. I turned left on Emerson and I followed that weird bridge around to where my high school was. Except it's not there any more. I vaguely recognized that bizarre strip mall and the gross pizza place. Then I didn't recognize a thing. I don't think it recognized me either.
So I did the logical thing: I turned off my maps and I just went. I found that place where you are imprinted and traced the paths until I got to where I was going.
I'm still getting where I'm going. Indiana, you are where I started.
I remember driving to Iowa in the night, nothing but an expanse of cornfields before us, and even that I couldn't see. It was dark and perfect for viewing the star-dotted skies that I marvel to think of now, living in a place built up so the stars are drowned out. I played this game to entertain myself during the drive: I would squint my eyes almost shut, blurring all the headlights of cars passing into spotlight-like beams, and then I would tilt back and forth to move them around like the spots they use to pull you into some important event--or a used car sale at least. These drives were always quiet, except for maybe some jazz on the radio because my dad was the only other one awake. Sometimes he would look at me in the rearview mirror, always expecting me to be up too, and he would wink at me for just a second before he put his eyes back to the road. We never really spoke, but even then I think I felt like we shared something of a road warrior soul.
And when I met Trevor, he had this in him--this Kerouacian determination to hit the road and be in it for the long-haul. Because there always is a destination, I suppose; but for those of us road warriors, just to be going is really the thrill. So maybe the girls will love it, or maybe they won't; but either way, a road trip is something they'll grow up knowing. Probably even more so now, our new home seemingly close to a thousand destinations compared to the desert isolation we'd come to know living in the west.
Here, in just six short hours, you can almost forget there is a place like New York City and get lost in the winding roads and trees of, say, Maryland, for instance. You can rent a tiny cabin with a wood-burning stove and a treehouse and tire swing out front. Deer greet you at the windows in the morning, little afraid of the pleasant, slow-paced nature that envelopes guests to such a rustic, calm space. You can just be for a day or two. Eat a s'more. Teach a kid what a s'more is, for Pete's sake. There the air was crisp and cold and we saw our first snow. But you know, there is nothing quite like the warmness that comes with a fire in a stove heating a living room. It's a warmness summer only dreams of because it is welcome and loving, like a hug or a blanket.
Our stay in Maryland was short and rather uneventful, but even as we pulled down that gravel driveway, leaving the cabin in our dust, I relished the coming trip home too. We wound around a lake and through mansions that have stood for decades, likely. We peeked down into valleys, speckled by the shadows of clouds and where the sun seemed always to shine on little white churches. We talked of such things and other things while the babies slept, and we sneaked some milkshakes for the grown-ups, courtesy of a sketchy convenience store somewhere outside of Pennsylvania.
Soon enough, the city came into view; and it's not quite a sky full of stars, but it sure is a city full of lights. I turned around to see Iris awake and taking in the view. I winked at her, without a word, before turning back to face the open road.
It was romance that sparked this trip. A wedding anniversary. It was the start of an adventure. It was a years-long dream to see the east coast in the fall. So they made reservations at the most idyllic little inn; mapped out the longest, windiest, most scenic routes to the place; and passed two days in misty meadows and gazing at leaves through fogged windows.
She was from Connecticut originally; and though she admittedly remembered very little of her childhood there, she still thought it was homey somehow. "Maybe," she said, "Those first years of my life are scrapbooked somewhere in my head." Whatever the reason, nostalgia crept in like the light fog that seeped through the trees and reflected a silvery light between the clouds. It accentuated greens that were as green as spring, saturated into neon by the damp air. Unexpected gaps in the trees offered prime views of valleys, showcasing patchwork forest tops and pastures, all divided up by stone walls, where they all donned wellies and set out for long walks, boots sinking down into the soft grass.
At the bed and breakfast where they stayed, there were gravel paths to the fields and trees out back; a cutting garden bursting with bright pinks and reds; pumpkins peeking out of hiding places in the rocked gates or set high atop the wall of chopped firewood--some of which would be used at breakfast in the morning. Hints of a storm shook leaves from the trees, sending them fluttering down to foreshadow the rains.
The town was filled with rolling land and secret roads; barns converted into almost anything else; antique shops and history museums. It was all new, so exciting; but settled and comforting. Then they happened upon a little farm, built by hand and toiled over in love, where chickens and geese roamed the fields by the pond and baby calves anxiously stuck their noses through the barn doors to be pet by little hands. There the giggly children rode around in old wooden carts and chose the pumpkins they liked best, the morning dew still wetting the ground beneath the endless rows.
It was like the weekend was a journey on to the pages of a storybook, fulfilling the dreams of children and adults alike, reminding them that the simplest things are truly the best.
A couple of weekends ago, we got it in our heads to go to the beach, as we do. But it was so windy and so freezing, that it really wasn't a workable plan, not to spend more time than it took to walk a few blocks' length bundled in sweaters at least. So we piled back in the car and we drove along the train tracks and through some fields and then by some strip malls and such until we reached a Target. And we bought jean jackets. And then some lunch at a weird cheap deli. Iris charmed the Dunkin Donuts guys while I ordered an iced coffee for the road and he gave her free donuts. He didn't even ask me if it was okay, but oh well. It made her day. These are the things you do in New York.
Then with full bellies and the sugar crash coming, we hummed some Jon Foreman and hit Highway 27 and drove and drove toward the east end. Trev had loose plans for stopping somewhere along the way, but the girls fell asleep for a good long while, so we kept driving and driving. We made for the North Fork and drooled over Suffolk County--vineyard after vineyard in between colonial style mansions and antique shops and crumbly churches and farm stands. New York feeds the two warring edges of my soul: the part that loves the biggest, bustliest city and the part that loves meadows--just green and windy--as far as the eye can see.
When the girls woke up, we found ourselves almost in Greenport and so we finished the journey. We stopped for a carousel ride and running barefoot on grass not littered with glass and dinner among sailboats and sunset views. We drove to the very end and waved to Connecticut and vowed to come back some time to take the ferry just for fun.
It made me realize just how much new territory we have to cover in this new spot of ours, how much there is to see, how many adventures there are to have. And when that day's adventure was done, we cranked some old Death Cab for Cutie and drove back in the dark, sparkling city lights calling us home.