Life in the Ground

Precious little of our lives in Yakima reminds me of life in Calgary. Not that it should. I’m just a comparison kinda guy.

Calgary in winter
Calgary in winter

In Calgary, we’ve had snow every month of the calendar year. Even August. Here, we’re lucky to get snow at all. When we do however, life becomes unlivable. Not the kind of unlivable that has one kicking the dog or hoarding the Communion wine. It’s more a slush-ridden slide of faith down valley hills on tires never sufficient to the task. The dampness of Pacific Northwest snow makes it heavier than the objects upon which it falls. Plants cower under the weight, almost like Atlas bending under a muscle-twitching burden. Roofs have been known to collapse. More people own snow blowers than shovels in this valley, since even body-builder knees buckle shoveling this snow.

Photo by Mike Sauer

In spite of endless sunshine, most often appreciated by lizards and sun worshipers, I’m most miserable during the Yakima summer. My Canadian blood, trained by a temperate climate promises a hazy kind of heat-induced droopiness that drags on endlessly when parts of you are sweating that never did before. I suppose it’s the opposite of S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder). While most Yakimites keep a loaded revolver in the glove box just in case winter’s grey leaves them overwrought, I whine like a banshee without enough rain and grey skies. I should probably have that checked out.

A Calgary heat wave usually meant a few days of low to mid 90s that promised bitchy parents. Drivers and pedestrians alike grew more aggressive than usual, and tempers got shorter than the summers themselves. As kids growing up in the not-so-balmy regions of Alberta’s grasslands, such unreasonable temperatures meant longer days for exploring and defining ourselves against the shenanigans of our troublesome friends.

Make it through the super-heated Yakima summer however and flaunted lavishly before us is a superlative fall, beautiful to the point of garish. Leaves change more slowly here. The sage green and spittle browns of summer are swapped out for yellow, auburn, orange, and other colors I can’t even begin to name. 

The historic Barge-Chestnut neighborhood in the Fall.
The historic Barge-Chestnut neighborhood in the Fall.

A Calgary Fall came quickly and with a vengeance. The colors were there one day, gone the next. Winter was the only decisive time of year. Calgary’s favorite color is the peaty-brown grass that climbs its gentle slopes and clings to her Rocky Mountain-shadowed foothills. Stands of poplars, deciduous minority brothers in the more ubiquitous pine forests further west into the mountains, groped for sunshine, teasing each other beside the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

Elbow River, Calgary
Elbow River, Calgary

From there, the Rainbow Trout, Steelhead, Sturgeon, and ample Pike taunted many a fly-fishing line and studied the undersides of canoe and kayak meandering their way down her rippling spine. Besides, if the fish weren’t biting, the mosquitoes most certainly were.

Bishop Grandin High School, 1 block from my street
Bishop Grandin Catholic High School, one block from my street

Life in the Calgary of the sixties and seventies was decidedly more pasty and wan than it is now in a sprawling cosmopolitan soup of oil-nouveau-rich yuppies. Before Bishop Grandin High School was built in the early seventies, we could look out our kitchen window and see the animals frittering about on Harry Hays’ farm a block away. In fact, our street was almost the southern most boundary of the city proper. For my parents to drive me for bagpipe lessons in Midnapore, then a separate town, now one of many annexed communities, required high beams and good suspension on dark, bumpy back roads.

A Calgary winter could be the most indecipherable mess of meteorological phenomena. Her geography has her cupped in the palm of a significant mountain range but with her head tucked in the nape of the foothills that ridge her neck. Some have compared it to Denver in this regard. It was not uncommon to scrape our windshields one day, after twenty minutes of pre-warming the car in -30 degree weather only to ditch our down jackets for windbreakers the next day as Chinook winds brought temperatures even into the 50s (10+ degrees Celsius of course). It was the meteorological equivalent of multiple personality disorder – about as complicated, but less fun.

A favorite part of Calgary life for me was the continuous rivalry between Calgary and Alberta’s capital city of Edmonton, a couple hundred miles north. CFL (Canadian Football League) teams, the Calgary Stampeders vied for supremacy against the Edmonton Eskimos (Canadians are allowed to use this word because I think we invented it) in clashes a lot less polite than is typically attributed to the Canadian demeanor. Betting was fierce. Petty, verbal jabs even more so. Broken ribs and missing teeth most common of all.

The Calgary Flames
The Calgary Flames

What did I care? I loved hockey, a sport as definitive of Canadian citizenship as God Bless the Troops bumper stickers in the States. Even before the Atlanta Flames became the Calgary Flames in 1980, I knew every player on every team. I even knew first round draft picks and the names of a few general managers. Ask me the most obvious question about anything football and the blank stare will tell you what you suspected all along.

The far too many uprootings in my family wake has made me grateful for the stability we’ve known here in Yakima. It’s surprising how God’s vitals become more pronounced when one isn’t always out of breath and one’s heart isn’t pounding in the ears. It makes inner silence and listening so much easier.

God has found me here. I may not always feel the same sense of DNA-level familiarity with my environment, I may be living in the U.S. but Canadian as the day is long, I may not appreciate all the cultural inside jokes or regional quirks, but I’ve heard God’s heart beating. It’s quite soothing. There has certainly been life in the drifts, but there’s more life in the ground, buried and out of sight, that nourishes and stirs dead things to life.

I’ll still whine from time to time about ‘home’ (whatever that is). I’ll still cringe whenever I see the Trumpster or the Palin-doll in “the news.” I will never understand the correlation between guns and “freedom.” I may not feel as connected or authentic when stumbling through the American national anthem. My friendships may barely exceed a decade. But God has planted me in a distant soil to bring me and mine closer to the deepest harvest, that of the heart.

Until then, I’ll keep bitching all through Yakima summers in the knowledge that seasons change. Like all of us.

I know, it’s annoying, but I kinda like it that way.


Yakima Valley pic found here

Calgary in winter pic found here

Bishop Grandin pic found here

Calgary Flames pic found here

Yakima in Fall pic found here

5 thoughts on “Life in the Ground

  1. THIS is so beautiful. Wonderful piece of writing. Thanks for sharing. We moved from Alabama to Alaska and then back (the moving back was not by choice) and I miss it so much, but I am thankful, as it seems you are, to have found God in a place that doesn’t always make sense. peace to you, my new friend.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s