I left Melbourne for Vancouver in mid-August 2012, the last slog of Winter, a time when my spirits are usually about as grey as my sun-deprived face. I was very excited that I would be arriving in the Northern Hemisphere’s Summer. Sure enough, stepping off the plane in Vancouver I quickly became hot, partly because I was layered like the Michelin man so that I would not tip the baggage allowance over the limit, but mostly because the seasons were reversed. I waited in the customs line with sweat on my lip and a back on fire, a combination of backpack strain and warm, sticky, airport air. When I finally escaped the clutches of immigration, I stepped into fresh air and sunshine. The stark difference in light felt almost blinding, especially given my increasingly jet-lagged eyelids, and looking out of the taxi everything seemed sepia-toned, making my new city seem all the more foreign and exciting.
Walking through the sunshine over the next two weeks was magical. Sunflowers towered above me on the sidewalk, daisies and geraniums were sprinkled in front yards and along windowsills. Vegetable patches grew randomly on street blocks and I plucked figs from big trees. I was enamoured by the heady smells of Summer blooms and shiny air—a romance back-dropped by the glorious mountains forever framing Vancouver.
Soon I watched the colours change in the wide streets and walked through waves of orange, red and yellow leaves. It was romantic in a different way. Like something from a 1920s film where the lure of affair and adventure provokes reserved social conduct. Often I felt like I was dwelling in a neighbourhood that The Babysitters Club might be found: the high houses, stair entrances, basement windows and towering, leafy trees seemed just like the streets described in the girl fiction series I read as a child.
Halfway through October I awoke to vast sheets of water hitting my basement window. It was darker than usual and the pounding sound was everywhere. Later that night I was told: “this is it, Danni. Prepare yourself. It is going to be like this for five months.” I laughed about this.
Five months later I was not laughing about it. The relentless rain had taught me many good things, like the importance of leather-proof boots, jackets with hoods and careful planning of my backpack. It also taught me that Vancouverites are resilient, adaptive and opportunistic: always making the most of a break in the rain (“look, it’s sunny” meaning “look, it’s not pissing down”), managing to walk through rain with little more than a thin poncho and then stepping onto the bus like they just walked out of a salon. It also taught me that I can find value in dismal weather and to really savour small things like hot chocolates, dry socks and a night-in trying to learn how to knit. And I simply adored the brief falls of snow. But when February came and it was still raining I began to lose patience. By May I truly felt I was drowning in excess moisture. My basement apartment felt damp and I was sick—very sick—almost permanently. Colds, sinus infections, bronchitis, laryngitis. I’d lie in bed resting but felt like every breath I took was filling me up with more cold, more wet, more sick. Dragon’s “Don’t You Got Out in the Rain” played through my mind on loop (which actually was a good thing) and I wondered if these Australian-based rockers wrote this song while in Van?!
During my final weeks in Vancouver the blossoms ignited the trees and daffodils poked up to say hello. And, oh, the tulips! The beautiful, beautiful tulips! Slowly the sun appeared more often and people began to appear bouncier, healthier and happier. The day it reached 13 degrees I took a walk around my neighbourhood and smiled at people sunning on their decks, drinking cider on their lawns and basking in every piece of light. Shortly after this it reached 24 degrees. My friend and I had planned to meet for coffee that day but she wrote to me and requested we go for beer instead—it was just “SO HOT, TOO hot, for coffee.” The Australian in me smiled quietly… and pretended that I was not feeling hot, as well. (Here is a secret: I was. I even bought gelato to cool down. Well, to cool down, and because gelato rules, obviously!).
I arrived back in Australia in June. It wasn’t as cold as I remembered Junes being, which was a great thing. Sadly this soon changed, and I found myself feeling colder here than I ever was in Canada. Australians live in perpetual denial about their Winters: because it gets so hot in Summer it’s assumed we do not need sound heating or insulation in our homes and buildings. That’s until it hits 2 degrees overnight and we complain for weeks on end but do not actually do anything about it. We even forget to dress appropriately.
I knew I was longing for Summer. I am a cold-blooded lizard/girl of the sunshine. I exult in the feeling of being hot, and I quickly feel cold at the slightest drop in temperature. I wear jumpers whenever I visit my Dad’s house in Summer because I hate the feeling of cold air-conditioning on my skin. My toes and fingers are frequently blue and I long to roam barefoot. Needless to say, I am very proud of myself for enduring three back-to-back Winters.
Still, I did not realise just how eager for the season change I was until last month when I was strolling back to my house from uni. It was six pm but not yet dark, an exciting symbol in itself, and the air felt slightly thicker and softer to walk through. It was still and warm and pleasant. I was neither hot nor cold. I became aware that my senses were working overtime and I was overcome by a feeling of safety and comfort, though it took me some moments to pinpoint exactly why. It was the smell: the sweet tinge of jasmine, mixed with fresh cut grass and yellow eucalyptus blooms that can make me want to sneeze, but can also leave me hopelessly nostalgic. Combined it was the smell of my everyday life, but it seemed pronounced and special in that moment; extraordinary.
I guess it was the smell of home. 🙂