On my Pinterest page I have a pin labeled “Breathing Space” – what started as a way to collect pictures of log cabins in the hopes of gaining ideas should I ever build one has turned into a conglomeration of images depicting large open spaces, dense forests, and vast expanses of waterfront nothingness. This actually came as no surprise given that my interior decor of choice involves lamp shades with tree silhouettes on them and an endless supply of moose themed knick knacks. I think it’s not only fair to say that I thrive in the great outdoors but that I also like my space. While such a notion no doubt plays into my introverted temperament, I sometimes wonder if there is something else at play. Why do I struggle so much with being around people?
I’ve grown up in the city. I’ve participated in team sports, volunteered for large not-for-profit groups, even been the main spokesperson for an animal-assisted therapy organization – each of which involved being around or dealing with large groups of people. Yet, despite all this, I’ve never felt one hundred percent comfortable in any of those roles. Sure, I have enjoyed them and they have provided me an outlet for my many passions, but I’ve always sensed something was seriously out of whack. It’s not until I get into the wilds of nature, where a trip to the grocery store is nearly a full day adventure, that I truly feel at home – not only physically but also in my own skin.
I remember not long ago watching a show about English teachers who travelled to Korea to gain teaching experience – a very common occurrence in the over populated world of trained educators (I say this from experience). One comment a teacher made about the immense number of people has always stuck with me – and slightly horrified me – “Wherever you go you are inhaling someone’s exhaled breath.” This statement exemplifies city life to me. In a nutshell, there’s no breathing space – of which I desperately need.
Thankfully, as I write this, I am sitting in a cabin at a glorious retreat centre located about ninety minutes north of the mentally induced havoc that is the city of Toronto. I’ve settled into God’s country – at its best. Having recently made a major change in my life – leaving one steady part-time job to regale in the not always steady paying world of writing – I decided to escape from life for a few days to gather my thoughts and make a new life plan. I essentially created my own writing retreat complete with a somewhat secluded cabin; not far off the main water grid but close enough to nature that I need to keep an extra eye on my dog once night falls. Until I got here I had forgotten how calming the afternoon sun peeking through cedar trees is, and how staring at it instantly removes all the swirlies in my head. It had escaped me how loudly Dora snores once she gives into the fresh air induced snoozes. And how the perfect way to start the day is with a post-breakfast hike; Dora gleefully running off leash and me breathing sweet smogless air. This is the closest I’ve felt to peace in a number of years. I think I’ve claimed a new sanctuary. I think I’m finally home.
It goes without saying that, ultimately, the perfect vacation for me is wherever I am permitted to bring Dora with me; we’re kind of a package deal. A place where she’s free to slosh around in mud puddles, roll in Lord knows what, and emits an odour that can only be described as “questionable”. Now that she’s getting older, and arthritis has set in, she can’t walk as far as she once did and takes longer to recover, but, if we’re going to be perfectly honest, the same goes for me. A huge bonus of staying where I am is that the owners are just as dog-crazy as me; they have three of their own. No matter where you go there’s a furry behind that needs a good scratch, of which I’m happy to oblige. You literally must navigate stepping stones of breathing bodies in order to make your way to the kitchen. Shortly after we arrived I pushed Dora out the door, encouraging her to “Go, be free, live up to your name – explore! Go dog!” With some coaxing from both myself and her new fur-friend Oliver, Dora set out to explore the vast 150 acres – mostly with her nose. It didn’t take long for her to find an ideal pee spot, eat something that I’m happy to leave as a mystery, and find the communal “natural” water dish that is the property’s pond. After her first exploration she came back covered in mud and physically exhausted, but boy, did she look happy. You see, dogs need breathing space too.
As I mentally prepare to head home and rejoin the gas guzzling, time-crunched, impatient human masses that make up my relatively large city, I find myself reflecting on how mentally different I am when I am away from such societal influences. Time has literally stopped while I’ve been here. Mass media holds no weight and billboard polluted skylines give way to lush, forested greenery. There are more then five stars in the sky. The distinct hum of traffic or blasts of distant train whistles are non-existent; only the harmonic chirps of little birds and the rustling of leaves have made up my daily soundtrack. The last four days has been peaceful beyond compare. The more I think about it the more it makes sense as to why I’ve been so unsettled for the majority of my adult life. I’ve been existing in a perpetual state of waiting – nothing has ever felt truly “right”. If I really put my mind to it, yes, I could settle down, buy a house, and make an honest, comfortable living – just like everyone else. But, if I’m really being honest with myself, I am able to admit that I don’t want any of that. Where I belong is out in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of city life; where my main form of exercise is tromping through the woods playing “what’s that sound?” and my dog is free to roll and romp to her heart’s content. I feel so restrained in the city and long term, I know that it’s not where I’m meant to be. I’m unsettled for a reason, my intuition is screaming so. It’s time to do something about it. The worldview of “just accepting things as they are” has expired.
So, as I head back to the city tomorrow, so starts my quest of staking claim to my own breathing space.
And give Dora a chance to live up to her name sake.
I mean, if I don’t do it for me, then I should at least do it for my dog. 😛