For as long as I can remember, arriving home meant smelling it.
My home town of Moncton has only a small airport. When you arrive – on one of those tiny claustrophobic aircrafts – you debark directly onto the tarmac. Every summer, as I’d step out of hours of recycled airplane and airport air, I’d take my first whiff of the fresh outdoors.
Cool, humid, and a delicious concoction of pine and salt water.
No other place in the world offered that particular melange of scents. My family became so accustomed to me mentioning the smell of home that, in recent years, one of their first questions upon my arrival became, So…did you smell it?
This summer, during our cross-Canadian road trip, I learned something I probably would rather never have learned: my home town isn’t the only place with that scent.
I started catching whiffs of my beloved fragrance in Northern Ontario. We were spending the vast majority of our nights boondocking in wilderness and our days driving through endless Boreal forests. I smelled the cool fresh air mixed with pine that is exactly half of my hometown scent; each time, I stuck my nose in the air, sniffed like a hunting dog on the trail of its prey, and became totally and utterly disoriented. I wasn’t home, so why was I smelling it?
Along Quebec’s St. Lawrence River I smelled an even more complete potpourri of my hometown scent. This giant fresh water river juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, mixing more and more with the salty sea water the further east we drove. At either side of the river were evergreen forests. The days were warm and humid, and the nights refreshingly cool. All the ingredients of the familiar aroma were there, and I greedily stole giant breaths of the familiar air. Part of me felt indignant – how dare Quebec steal our unique combination of scents? – and the other part was conjuring such strong images of family and home that I had half a mind to make a run for home.
It probably didn’t help when Bruno said, “We can be home in two days if you’d like.” We were now only 1000km away, after all.
In fact, I’d been battling the urge to beeline home throughout our cross-Canadian trip. When I first caught sight of those red Adirondack chairs that are all over the Canadian National Parks, I felt a pang for home. (I’d mistakenly thought those chairs only existed in New Brunswick cottage country.)
When I spotted a little wooden church school that could have been where my own grandmother would have been educated; when I stumbled upon a Highland Dance competition in Winnipeg that reminded me the Scottish heritage of the Maritimes; or when we overnighted in little marinas with wooden boats and little white wooden lighthouses, I wanted to race home.
When we spent a few days in Ottawa – where I had lived for a year back in 2010 – it felt sort of like home. We visited the market where I’d purchased my fresh produce, wandered through my old neighbourhood, visited my old landlord, had dinner with old neighbours and friends, and visited tourist sites that were very familiar to me. But Ottawa didn’t have the scent, so it wasn’t quite home.
When we passed through Plantagenet, the nothing town in eastern Ontario where my grandmother was born, I felt strangely connected to this place I’d never even been to. We wandered through the cemetery, noting any tombstones that held her maiden name, and we chatted with locals about any living relatives in town. But Plantagenet didn’t have the scent, either.
By the time we reached the Gaspé Peninsula, though, I may as well have been home. The beaches, the humidity in the air, the fishing villages perched on the edge of the sea, the cottages. I was seeing – and smelling – home everywhere.
It turned out that not only the smell I’d thought was unique to home wasn’t, but in fact, the charm I’d always associated with my little corner of New Brunswick wasn’t unique. I felt disappointed, like my cross-country trip had somehow removed from me what had always been special about my own little corner of the planet.
Still, when we crossed the bridge from Quebec into New Brunswick, I felt a sort of homecoming. I was welcomed with flat boardwalks along wetlands, scorching red sunsets over calm ocean water, and salty air giving my hair that familiar frizz. Even the French was more familiar.
When I saw my first Acadian flag, I fought the urge to race home. When we joined the scenic Acadian route that boasts those same little red starfish signs just outside my family home, I had to stop myself from ordering Bruno to step on the gas.
See, as much as I wanted to be home, I also wanted to see my country. I’d already learned so much from this cross-Canadian road trip – and been forced to redefine my idea of home – that I knew racing to my family wasn’t the right choice. We would be there soon enough, but on the way, we had more places to see and so much more to enjoy.
So we did. We watched a city parade in Bathurst, people from the floats throwing candy out to the kids as though Halloween had come early. We spent an entire – amazing – day at the Acadian Historic Museum in Caraquet, learning about the history and culture of the Acadian people. We drove out to the tip of New Brunswick – where there was, of course, a white wooden lighthouse – and overnighted on the wild and peaceful Miscou Island.
I’m happy I took the time to visit a bit of New Brunswick. I’m even happier I took the time to visit a bit of Canada. We spent two months driving from Saskatchewan to New Brunswick, and I discovered and learned so much – that the Prairies were not the armpit of the country, that Canadian wilderness was the most wild of all, and that Quebec had so, so much variety to offer visitors.
Most of all, I learned that home isn’t home because of a certain scent or a certain charm – it’s home because of the memories it holds in my heart; because it’s my place of perpetual returning; and most of all, because it’s where I find the people I love. Though I found similar smells and charms in other parts of my country, none of them holds that perfect recipe which makes home home.
Bruno and I have been home in New Brunswick for almost two entire months (barring a 10-day trip to Nova Scotia, which I’ll blog about soon). Now, we’re getting ready to head out, on new adventures (which I will tell you about soon).
When we next return, I may not need to catch a big whiff off the plane to set my mind into home-mode. The scent of my neck of the woods is nice, but arriving home at the end of a journey is even nicer.