John White: I finally understand the ‘Kootenay vibe’

I returned from a trip to Edmonton with unexpected fresh perspective on life in Castlegar.

I returned from an extended weekend trip to Edmonton on Sunday night with unexpected fresh perspective on life in the Kootenays.

Let’s begin with the things I’d forgotten about Edmonton in five months.

The most obvious: Actual traffic and unabashed road rage. “That guy cut us off! What the darn heck?” I said to myself, wondering what kind of out-of-control transportation breakdown was upon us. I was certain it had to be a special day, or event. Nope, just a day ending in “day.”

I had to fight the urge to say “hello” to random strangers on the street. You can get yourself beat up for that in bigger cities. People look at you with intense skepticism if you start talking to them for “no reason.”

The dudes on bikes with bulging backpacks and quick, sideways glances were everywhere downtown. They had merch to sell and were eager to meet their buyers. For whatever reason, they stood out during this visit, even though I didn’t think much about them when I lived there.

Everyone I ran into for the first time since leaving commented that I’ve never looked more relaxed, despite battling wicked back spasms most of the weekend. What does that say about my stress level before leaving the city?

All weekend I actively approached everything with a “no big whoop” attitude, and not surprisingly, I felt very relaxed. I found I was thinking more creatively and engaging my sense of humour with greater ease.

No, I was not partaking in dances with Mary Jane or her friends. This was a new-found “chill” that I can trace to the banks of the calming Columbia River and the trees that top the majestic Selkirk Mountains.

There were other moments of “huh” I discovered once I got back Sunday and had time to ponder the subtle differences.

I was clearly born to be in the mountains. Edmonton is a beautiful city, and the river valley offers breathtaking views, but nothing quite compares to the sense of comfort that comes from what I like to call the Kootenay mountain hug. It reminds me of the feeling you get when you’re putting your contacts in and it takes a while to settle them just right on your eye and when they finally do you’re all “ahhhhhhh.”

Much like the hypothesis that those travelling at the speed of light would age more slowly than us Earth-bound types because the time they experience is affected by their speed relative to Earth, I have a sense that everything kind of slows down in the Kootenays. I feel as though I have more time to appreciate the small touches in life here. There is a noticeably more frenetic pace to life in a major centre. The ever-present crush of too much to do and not enough time to do it all seems to weigh on many there, as it did to me for many years.

Yes, there are several top-level escape room facilities and super-fun board game cafes in Edmonton (and other entertainment options not readily available in the Kootenays). There are trade-offs in any rural versus urban discussion.

Wise people often say that in order to find yourself, you need to get lost. Certainly, to gain clarity of how one’s environment affects your psyche, you need to get away from it for a while to acquire an objective reflection.