Table For One?

Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.
— Joan Didion

R U M S P R I N G A

 

There are two kinds of reactions when a young woman goes on a solo vacation. The first is to ask, “Why?” and question their sanity. The second is to say, “Good for you!” and then question their sanity later over wine with friends.

It seems that most of the world expects young women to never want to be alone. There’s an underlying assumption that a delayed mental breakdown must be in the works. A sort of undoing lurking somewhere at the end of that road.

It’s not anyone’s fault. Not really. There is, of course, all kinds of inherent danger in a woman being alone. Things can go wrong. There’s safety in numbers. Etc.

It's my firm belief that the bigger danger is never allowing ourselves to be alone out of fear.

I reached a certain point in my day-to-day life where I very rarely found time to have a conversation with myself that wasn’t pragmatic and ridden with anxiety. Making a list of mental to-do’s. A list of things to do before the weekend. A list of things to do on the weekend. A list of things do to before I do those things on the weekend. Every task with its own weight of importance.

I had spent so much time talking to the important people in my life, I had forgotten that when sequestered in some place I’ve never been, or wasn’t accustomed to, my favourite thing to do was have a conversation with myself.

I wanted to get back there, in touch with my own radio waves. I didn’t know quite how to do that except to drive away from all those fabulous people.

The Albertan in me still finds a good deal of wonder in the British Columbian landscape. The long-lost allure of the Okanagan Valley isn’t lost on me just yet. So I found the 5 hour drive to the valley well worth the opportunity to hang out with myself for a few days. This is how I found myself at the mysteriously named “Rumspringa.”

An enthusiastically reviewed Air BNB gem (literally, there’s a gem beside the listing) that looked like the perfect translucent room on the side of a cliff to get back into the soil with myself. I packed my bags, loaded the car, put on Bob Seger for morale, and hit the road.

The heat wave heading towards the west coast escaped my self-determined radar.

Rumspringa turned out to be just as advertised. A stunning room with panoramic views of the lake and hills. An exceptional place to reflect and get some writing done away from people, electricity, and running water.

All of this with a comfortable room temperature of 300 degrees.

Because survival also tops my list of “most-loved” things on my path to self-discovery, I decided to make friends with the eclectic group of people who called the main house their temporary home-away-from-home. They provided the shade, I provided the wine. 

The group consisted mostly of a welcoming mix of international boarders doing work on the property, the kind of work that doesn’t have a finish line. The jovial, grey-bearded man who showed me to my room told me he mostly lives on his fishing boat in Mexico and he mostly also lives here.

In this place, two things could be true at once.

I did my best to shed my own OCD nature and adapt to the commune-like atmosphere that this group had created. I tried to forget about my old lover, air conditioning, and drink the Kool-Aid for an evening.

There were foosball games, hamburgers, and salsa music. A man-made koi fish pond sat shallowly to our left which apparently housed 70 koi fish. The dark grade of the water made that estimate hard to confirm. I briefly considered calling animal control before helping myself to another hamburger and reminding myself to say less of the things that I thought out loud to others.

This wasn’t the place for rationality or the authorities.

We celebrated the spectacular sunset together over slices of the lovely Mexican chef’s two-day-old Dairy Queen birthday cake. I watched curiously as he saved the chocolate middle for last. He had carefully eaten the vanilla ice-cream around the perimeter in excited anticipation of the centre.

I asked him why he did this. He replied, “The middle is the best.” I looked down at my own sad slice. Only the exterior vanilla part remained. I had inhaled the chocolate centre so quickly its deliciousness had barely registered on my tongue. I thought to myself this is a great metaphor for how I live my life.

I said this aloud to the group. They rolled their eyes exasperatingly at me.

There was talk of making a fire but I had long begun my descent way back down the hill towards my own little hellfire accommodation for the evening. I slept on the floor in fits of heat wishing I could spoon an ice cube. I’d let it be the little spoon. I’d let it steal my SIN number.

The mosquitos buzzed in my ears and the small city lights glared back at me from those beautiful windows like a challenge. I will not let Rumspringa defeat me, I told myself as I peed outside on the cliff to avoid returning to the cast from Wildcountry up above.  I will enjoy “the solitude.”

When morning came, and I know exactly when it came because I was still awake, the sun rose over the valley like a very, very warm wave. Engulfing my pathetic struggles in its beauty and reminding me why this sweet little hellfire place got such glowing reviews.

Because the beauty is worth the pain.

That’s a good analogy for being alone, I thought. I could hear the commune laughing at my stupid analogy.

C A S A  C O L I N A

 

I started my car in the morning, whispering sweet nothing to the steering wheel for withstanding the heat. The electric temperature gage read 39 degrees Celsius. It was 8 AM.

I arrived at Casa Colina like a refugee arriving on a welcoming shore. I embraced the BnB host who didn’t seem like the hugging type like a long-lost aunt. She shrugged me off, looking concerned, and went through the list of accommodation details.

I listened attentively like a puppy waiting to hear those magic words. Air Conditioning. And there it was. “There’s an air conditioner in your bedroom which works pretty well most of the time.”

I’ll take it! I sprinted a few victory laps around the property before returning to her side with the loyal vigour of a presidential aid before election day.

Casa Colina was better than advertised. Isolated, air-conditioned, and came with a pool. The proprietors were warm, welcoming, and incredible chefs. It was the perfect place from which to launch my extremely important soul-searching activities like hiking for miles and journaling renting a Sea-Doo solo.

While cruising around Lake Skaha on my Solo-Doo the fresh air whipped at my face and reminded me how much fun it is to do something that seems ridiculous just for the sake of it. Also, how pathetic my forearm strength is.

The experience became part of a pattern of excursions where the person charging my credit card asked me twice whether it was really “just me.” A common reaction to something that shouldn't be so shocking.

Back at the pool I was immediately interrogated by an older man vacationing with his wife who had learned about my profession from the proprietor.

He jumped on the opportunity of having me sequestered in a body of water to question the relevancy of social media, in fact, of advertising in general. It had never worked for him. “Sunken money,” he said. He would rather buy his employees a vacation than pay one more cent in advertising fees that had never brought anyone into his business.

I asked him, jovially, what he did for a living. He told me he owned a funeral parlour which hadn’t had foot traffic in years.

Just kidding.

“Insurance,” he actually said. After briefly dozing off in the shallow end, I came to and asked him more polite questions about his business like, “That’s odd have you tried Google advertising?” and then I immediately turned my attention to the sky and said, “Looks like there’s a storm coming.”

After returning to the safety of my room I poured myself a glass of wine and began to write this blog which allows me to share the pains and privileges of this little journey with my mother and probably one other person who accidentally googles “Rumspringa” on their next ayahuasca trip.

I departed Casa Colina with a heaviness in my heart. I didn’t want to leave Brenda or her fabulous banana pancakes behind. She had become my pseudo fairy god mother of the Okanagan Valley though she certainly didn’t want that job. 

As I drove down the winding path that led me further from my newfound haven, I put Bob Segar back on the stereo. My hands on the wheel, the destination a little uncertain, the day ahead unfolding by own design. I could go anywhere.

I went directly to a winery.

Painted Rock. Blasted Church.

 

G O D 'S  M O U N T A I N

My final stop was a place called “God’s Mountain” which seemed pretty presumptuous on their part. To counter any possible religious influence I bought a bottle of wine at Blasted Church Winery and drank it in the driveway.

I booked God’s Mountain on a whim and a Google search. I only later read the reviews. The crowd was divided. Some said it was truly deliverance, a Mediterranean heaven on the west coast.

Others mentioned other, stranger things.

Only then did I look up the cancellation policy which was a strict 30 days. “Can’t wait!” I repeated to myself and remembered someone telling me once that if you actually force yourself to smile it releases positive endorphins to your body.

So that’s how I entered heaven, with a smile plastered on my face, ready for anything.

What I found was a beautiful, only slightly decaying, white stucco estate nestled in haphazard chunks on the side of a rolling hill lined with vineyards. Not so bad, Google, not so bad after all.

The house itself was, in a word, eclectic. Besides the more functional rooms like the kitchen, there was a room entirely dedicated to strange artifacts the owner of the estate had picked up through out her travels. This room was called, “The Museum” and because I’ve watched too many horror movies I quickly skipped through it looking only at the horizon.

In the living room there was a very large dollhouse and a grand piano. I kept my eyes trained on the grand piano as per the reasons mentioned above.

The living room opened out onto one of the best views British Columbia has to offer. All lake and sky.

I spent the day by the pool reading, thinking, and being the most anti-social I’ve been in years. Not once did I strike up a conversation with the jolly older, European couples who clearly came here annually because they had a blender in the cabana and were serving “God’s Mountain’s Margaritas.”

Amen.

Earlier in the trip I may have swam across an ocean for that margarita but at this point in time, I was more engrossed in thinking about life stages. So no one would want to talk to me anyways.

We rush out of university ready to be an adult, only to find out what it truly means to be an adult and wish to go right back to the naivety of our dorm rooms. Because we can’t go back, we go forward. Full force into the roles that are expected of us.

Girlfriend, fiancée, wife, mother. Business owner, friend, mentor, leader. Trying to attain and be present in each and every one without losing some vital piece of ourselves.

Part of why I’m here is a rebellion against that truth. Not because I don’t want it, but because I know transitioning through life stages and getting older means letting go of some of the things that matter to me right now.

Like freedom and free time.

Only to be replaced with things that will consume my entire world for the better. And once we move through that we might just end up back here. At God’s Mountain. Grandparents having margaritas on the deck.

I know that life’s trajectory is far from black and white and unique to each of our choices. That there are ways to find balance and fulfillment in all stages of life, in all things we do. To not be present and grateful due to the daily noise is a tragedy I don’t want to give into.

On the last night on my trip I quietly walked past the group who were still partying, besides one gentleman who had passed out in his bowling cap. I’ve never felt more like Todd in Wedding Crashers in my life.

Since I had already accepted this new “anti-social” version of me that this place had unearthed, I took it a step further. I quietly approached the piano, long overdue for a tuning. I knew the acoustics would carry well beyond that group of funky people right into the lake. I relished that at this moment in my life, I was living on excitingly selfish fumes.

I opened that baby grand up and played my best of “Let It Be.” Because I felt like it.

When I had botched the solo and finished the song that took me 3 months to learn I slinked back past the group towards my lonely “enlightened” dwelling. No one in the group turned to look at me until I was well past them. I had ruined happy hour and I respected that.

When I reached my door the man who had previously been unconscious yelled back at me, “That was great!”

It made my night.

I picked up a few things on my solitary road trip. Besides great bottles of wine. I learned that no matter where you go, people are people. They just want to connect.

I learned that taking some time to yourself is an opportunity to remember how choosing to be alone is an incredible privilege. One that should be exercised to remind us of who we are, what we might become, what we want to come home to. I was reminded that being surrounding by people who love you is the ultimate blessing.

The Okanagan Valley was good place as any to remember how easily we forgot ourselves in our metaphorical grocery lists. Those lists we make that need to be accomplished by 25, by 30, or by the time we die.

We don’t need to go to harsh extremes on the Pacific Crest Trail, discarding our hiking boots and minds, while re-enacting a version of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild to find grace within our own bodies, our own consciousness, for a little moment before life picks up unrelenting speed again.

The phrase “self-care” gets a lot of heat. Perhaps because it’s been embedded in mainstream “coolness” and maybe because it’s mistaken for narcissism. Loving yourself is not narcissism, it’s strength. And we rally against it because it’s hard to do.

I have certainly not always loved every variation of myself, but I endeavor to like myself in the dark. It’s a ritual that isn’t always easy and isn’t always comfortable, but this form of self-care always delivers you something new and surprising. I’ll do my best to honour it every year.

Just not in a heat wave.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Samantha Ellis