Budding trees and blooming flowers follow the hard season of winter. Songbirds twitter their joy as they return home from exile. Foxes, bears, raccoons and coyotes emerge hungry from their dens, fattening up as they prepare to create and feed the next generation of critters. Heavy rain and fierce wind test the tallest of the trees, to see just how far they can bend.
Change is not easy.
When spring has sprung and the winds slacken, the rainclouds lift, the hungry bellies fill, the wandering return, and the flowers bloom, the transformation seems reassuring and inevitable. Beautiful. Easy.
Inertia is easy. Transformation takes work.
Whether it is a plant, an animal, a person or a city, the work of transformation is mostly invisible. Transformation requires persisting in the face of disappointment, struggling for fulfillment when what you need is scarce, and trusting that the pangs of change will be worthwhile.
We left New West for a small town west of Montreal. It was not for lack of love for New West, that we set out to create a new life in Quebec, but rather a desire for adventure and greater economic freedom. Moving was an opportunity to transform how we lived our lives, improve our finances, master a second language, and explore places like Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Toronto, Boston, New York and the Maritimes that we could never afford to visit if we were flying five people from Vancouver.
For many years we had wondered if the pain of high housing and daycare costs was worth the delights of living in the Lower Mainland, and when we ran the numbers when an opportunity to relocate came up, there was no question it was a much better choice financially. Quebec taxes are higher, but daycare ranges from $7-12 per day thanks to government subsidies (we were paying $15 per hour!), university tuition is about a third the cost of B.C. (a significant savings for a family of our size) and we could buy a beautiful 4-bedroom house on almost an acre in a beautiful family-oriented area with a gourmet kitchen and an in-ground pool for a little more than half of the sale price of our West End fixer-upper.
In the Vancouver area, we could keep our heads above water, but there was a long list of things we could not afford to do because the cost of living was so high. Moving to a place with a much lower cost of living opens up opportunities we could not dream of back home. Yes, I still think of New West as ‘home.’
The hard part was leaving our friends and community. But when I reflected on our time in New West, I realized that if we experienced friendship and community it was because we made an effort to be friendly and community-oriented. As much as we loved living in New West, it is not the only place in the world to experience a good life. And so after much reflection and research, we took the leap.
We bid tearful goodbyes to our New Westminster friends, and one of the first things we did when we arrived was to introduce ourselves to our new neighbours. We determined to embrace the longer, harsher Quebec winter. We enjoyed a season of ice skating outside, shovelling walkways, braving black ice, tubing down snowy hills and walking in a winter wonderland.
We lived in an empty house, sleeping on borrowed air mattresses until our furniture came. We found furniture to replace what we had sold on Kijiji and VarageSale. We began the paperwork to establish ourselves as Quebecers: schools, insurance, taxes, drivers licenses, dog license, medical cards (and we are still working through paperwork!).
The weather became springlike before we got to the end of our winter wish list, but perhaps it is good to save some new Canadian cold weather experiences for next year.
Slowly, we are putting down new roots as we get to know our new community. It is slow and sometimes frustrating work to settle in a new place, but so far, we love it here too. The weather is cold, but the people are warm. Life is different, but it is good.
Can we say if it was worth it? Was the move a success or failure? I believe it will be a success, but I feel like we are a seed that isn’t yet fully sprouted. Our family’s transformation is still in process.
Snow is still thick on the ground by Metro Vancouver standards. There are no tulips or magnolia blooms yet, but here too there are signs of the seasonal transformation. The thick ice that so recently seemed impenetrable is melting from the bottom up. The edges of the ice are eaten away, and the hard ice softens so that it is easy to clear it away.
When we have lived through a second winter here, I think we will know better whether this is a place where we can thrive. It took three years before I had any close local friends in New Westminster. I’ve learned a few things since then, and already we have met new friends who we hope will become old friends with time.
My kids tell me they have a hard time imagining what the world will look like when the snow finally melts. I expect it will be muddy and mucky at first. And that is the way of change. Renewal is the pretty result. Change is mucky, but we wade through it with patience, hope and joie de vivre.
Our flowers may not be blooming yet, but the silent work of renewal is underway. And, thanks to the Internet, the long arms of friendship reach out across time zones and both official languages.