Strong and Free

That’s the motto of Alberta, and it suits the people we’ve met there.

First, let me tell you the story of an unusual friendship.

Of all things, an online message board about The Lord of the Rings movies is where I met Jacqui; she lives in New Zealand where those movies were shot. She grew up in Canada, though, next door to Jess. So, when I became lifelong friends with Jacqui, I got Jess in a two-for-one deal.

Over the past 20 years, we three had a five children, one divorce and marriage (me), one earned PhD (Jacqui), and one fire chief promotion (Jess). We’ve lost two beloved mothers and we’ve visited each other in person (all three of us) only twice (J&J visit each other tons but that’s different).

This photo is from last summer in Jasper National Park, which is just about my favorite place ever thanks to these friends meeting me there. This summer we’re back in Edmonton to visit Jess, even though she’s off work for only a bit, because she’s managed to spend time with us in her own, constantly multitasking way.

For example, she’s pitched her tent right by the Airstream, but not so we can spend long days and nights together (she can’t). She can come by after her basketball game, before her firefighter shift starts. After one daughter’s softball game, before she has to go home to fix dinner for all three. After helping me do laundry at her house, before taking us to a brewery to meet members of her fire crew whom she takes back-country backpacking each summer.

Get the idea? Jess is a powerhouse of a person, but the most pleasant, kind powerhouse you’ll encounter, one who wears a weight vest while knitting. (Just kidding, she wears the weight vest while hiking; she wears slippers while knitting.)

I’m thrilled to have grabbed her for a decadent lunch, where we drank girlie drinks and ate fried things until we felt sick. We also overdid it at MEC, Canada’s outdoor outfitter, this time with our wallets. And we walked and talked so much that I thought I’d lost my sweater on the trail and not even noticed. (I hadn’t lost it, but we were walking and talking so much I thought surely I had.)

We’re missing Jacqui, but, even if she were here, she’d have to fit herself in after Tracy gets the truck worked on, before Doug and Melanie meet us to talk about our route north around the wildfires.

Edited to add: After an evening spent with Jess’s fire crew friends whom she takes on backpacking trips, I’d like to rewrite this post to be about what I understand Canadians to be like. We met J, who’s about to go on a cross-planet sailing trip. C, who hikes side by side with our Jess and travels to music festivals. M, who politely did not ask us anything about being American or owning guns or voting for Trump, when my guess is, at first, he didn’t want to share the bench with us for fear of our answers.

But, that was several beers ago, and we still have to pack up tonight and head out, so I’ll keep my positive images about Canadians to myself. Let me say that I’m glad I’m here.

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