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Field Notes - Turning East
by Lynne Luven

DURING OUR current national fractiousness, it seems unwise to lapse into "pathetic fallacy," even if it is merely the botanical sort. That is why I sternly resisted attaching undue significance to the condition of a fallen maple leaf I recently picked up on a pathway along the Rideau Canal.

But when I flipped the leaf over, I found its underside teeming with more pale green aphids than there were executive assistants at the Charlottetown conference.

"Eeeuugh," I said, and tossed the infested leaf aside. It fluttered to the ground where it nestled comfortably among others of its kind, indifferent to my squeamish shock or its potential as a political metaphor, serenely on its way to a useful afterlife as leaf-mould.

"Don't mind me," I could have told it. "In my current dislocated state, I expend a great deal of energy avoiding the urge to slop around in the shallows of arcane literary linkage. Anything to distract myself, from the waves of homesickness poised to engulf me." Yep, painful metamorphosis is required when a lifelong Westerner migrates in an easterly direction to take up uneasy lodgings in the Nation's Capital.

Innumerable Ontario trees fence me off from the grasslands of home; countless shelves of Canadian Shield rock separate me from Edmonton, where I resided so comfortably for the past dozen years. And, as my mother keeps writing me, Ottawa is "such a long, long way" from the stony soil north of the Regina Plains, where I spent my formative years.

Wouldn't you know it would all come down to geography after all?

As we drove endlessly eastward under an uncertain August sun, somewhere between Sudbury and North Bay, mesmerized by the endless panels of rocks and trees/trees and rocks flowing past on either side of the car, I began to wonder how Ontarians had ever dared to call Prairie vistas "boring and repetitive."

And now, after just two months in Central Canada, I know I will never stop longing for Sky as I've always experienced it--a towering, crystalline dome of blue placed snugly over a platter of earth, a sky so purely blue it makes your lungs tingle just to look at it, never mind to breathe in its essence....

But I might be able to cope with Sky Withdrawal - and with the peculiar fact that Ottawans seem split neatly into two separate camps: those who wear battered beige Tilley hats rain or shine, and those whose glistening black Lycra racing shorts are forever laminated to their buttocks were it not for the paper problem.

"I just cannot get used to the way books feel here," I confessed to an Ontario-born-and-bred colleague. "Pages just don't feel right when you turn them."

With the strained-but-polite tone used to humour eccentric aliens, he asked, "And how are books supposed to feel?"

"Crisp," I said. "The pages are supposed to feel crisp, so that when you turn them in a reading frenzy, they make a satisfying, brisk schnick sound, not the dead sflumpf they make here."

"Schnick? Sflumpf?"

"And it's not just the sound the pages make when you turn them," I continued. "It's the texture of the paper itself. Out West, paper feels dry and firm and, er, caressable. Here, it feels wet and flaccid and, well, sort of slimy.

"And back in Alberta, when you rip a piece of paper from the computer and ball it up in a rage, it makes a satisfying scrunch noise. Here, it just wilts in your hand....

"Uh-huum," said my colleague, sidling away from me down the corridor.

Well, this may not be the stuff of irreconcilable differences, but it does seem to me that the texture of the page and the shade and slant of light under which it is perused do affect how that book or newspaper or magazine - or even, Lord forfend, constitutional amendment - is read. It doesn't seem such a big thing to keep in mind.


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