it can be hard to explain the difference in two such similar cultures.when asked, i usually say that the differences are subtle and can be hard to articulate. partly that shows that i am more British than i once was as the Canadian in me would have answered honestly that we are friendlier, cleaner and more laid back. I’ve learned to temper that response.
but this week, when i saw the picture of the garden at home which has become only whiteness and trees bent low under the weight of snow, i realised that missing home can be about so much more than missing family or familiar senses of humour — it can be about missing a particular acoustic.
once, as a keen MA student, i talked my way into the anechoic chamber at Leeds Met Uni. I was writing a paper about ‘bodies inside out’ and wanted to experience it for myself. standing, and then sitting inside the heavily padded cell of a room i waited and slowly experienced the unravelling of myself as heart, lungs and finally the sound of electricity in the nerves came to the fore as a kind of high pitched hum. It was an astounding experience. I had a terrible chest cold at the time and hearing my lungs rasping away in such.an intimate way had me convinced i was at death’s door.
before England, was home. and much of home was studying or cafes. A winter evening in the Sugarbowl is giddy. The darkness reflects us all back at ourselves as though we are in a train tunnel — people emerge through the door and yipes and giddy laughs ring out to close the goddam door if they’re too slow. The bell on the door clatters against the glass, the coffee grinder roars, laughter echoes, music plays, cups and saucers clatter and we sit and drink refill after refill after refill as the space gets closer, more dizzy, more electric till the caffeine itself is like a high pitched hum.
Then, it’s my turn, and coat on i suddenly cross the threshold into the deep silence of a northern Canadian winter. I suck the cold into my lungs like a child with a mint. I’m alone now, in the dark on a small suburban street. Looking in from the dark, i can make out the shapes of people through the steamed up windows of the cafe. The world has fallen utterly silent. I turn inwards and listen for a moment. No birdsong, no cars, just my own breath this beautiful plaything which rises and stretches and disperses up up under the clear night and its many stars. My feet begin to crunch and squeak through the snow. There are deep ruts here from cars, black ice and a kind of grey mushy powder on top. Those who know it, will know. There’s a way of walking the winter and she leads you, not the other way around.
One night, walking home, i see a deer. She’s nuzzling the snow looking for greenery somewhere under there. She’s only yards from my house. I stop, still and silent. Her breath rises straight up. I stand and watch and wait till my toes are on fire with cold and then, at the slightest movement she skitters away like a disappearing breath.
That night, in bed, i open the window and let the ice fog come rolling in. Frost forms on the walls and the room is a crystalline burrow.
These things are not for forgetting.
But i couldn’t really tell you this when you said it’s not so bad here, is it? No, it’s not. Just different.