Quiet Snows of Mariposa

I just finished my first placement. I was working at a school in Etobicoke. I would commute from this quiet little town, that I call home, to the fringes of the big smoke every morning. Incidentally, I would find myself driving back in the evenings.

You would think that driving for at least nearly four hours everyday would be a nuisance. It really wasn’t. Being late, because of unpredictable traffic, was, however. I’ve come to hate being late, especially when I leave for work at 6 a.m.

This, I’m afraid to say, has been one of the biggest accomplishments of my thirties. (I’ve often been told that I’ll be late for my own funeral.) I’m only six months in, but I’ve made strides toward self-improvement. Obviously.

In Mariposa, there is no rush hour. You’re never far enough away from anywhere you might be going to be late, because of anything other reason than you simply didn’t want to be on time. You might find yourself caught in traffic when the boat races come to town at the end of summer. But that happens on the weekend and you can always just walk to the lakes. If you do drive, there is ample parking available.

It’s winter now, and the lakes are slowly freezing over. The boat races are also over, but the people don’t seem to have an unfed need for speed. Life moves just as slowly as it always does, or slower. The shorter days serve to remind you that the pubs close a little earlier here than they do in the city. You’ll make it, though, and you’ll run into somebody you’ve met if you’ve been more than once.

In Mariposa, you’re familiar, just like the places and people around you. The new faces are only those of people stopping through, on their way to somewhere else or trying to escape from the rush of being unknown. Mariposa is the type of place where you worry about the size of your wardrobe, and if someone will point out that you’ve worn the same thing twice in one week.

There aren’t any shopping malls in town, so people only remark on your outfit when you’re wearing something new. Being fashionable here only makes you distinct, which is the last thing you want when you’re familiar. After all, standing out is easiest when people know you.

Remembering names is important here, too. You have to be honest when you’ve forgotten someone’s name. They’ll also know who and when you asked someone else to remind you of their name. You’ll see them again, too. And, really, it’d be unwise to be a stripper in this town. Much better to sell insurance, and keep a lawyer on retainer.

This is also a town in which you can make a name for yourself. You can be the town’s __________. You just have to do something different-that-isn’t-too-different. Join a better band, sell different shoes, or serve more varieties of local(ish) beer.

This is also the type of town where your parents will retire. You’ll come visit them, and wonder about where you are. You’ll seek out the best available entertainment on a Friday night, and settle for the local hotspot that you stumbled into.

Or, you’ll have grown up here and left. You’ll come back during the holidays, just to visit your folks. You’ll walk into your favourite bar and meet people you haven’t seen since the last weekend before a major holiday. You’ll have to hug them, because, well, a handshake is too honest.

Ultimately, however, this is the type of town you seek when you’re searching for yourself. You’ll have plenty of time to spend with whomever you might be, or want to be.

This is one of the gifts that Mariposa has to offer you – time. And, when it snows you’ll find yourself with even more time. There are already too few places to go, and the snow will keep you further away. The snow brings a quiet to any place, by breaking the noise apart and absorbing it, but here it sounds the same as it does on any summer evening. It’s this silence that brings the time.

If you listen carefully enough, you can find noise, and break the silence. It will be a dampened, muffled noise that only the astute will hear. If you weren’t raised here, it’ll take your ears a while to adjust. Once you hear it, though, you won’t stop listening for it.

In the morning, every Tim Horton’s drive through will be busy with people grabbing a coffee – you can hear the voice coming from the speaker, on the oversized box that you speak to, when you order from your car window, for at least two blocks. There will be children being rushed to school. The highways will become overwhelmed with the traffic of people travelling to get to work, elsewhere.

During the day, the seats and tables of local bakeries and patisseries will fill up with retirees looking to catch up with the friends they saw yesterday. The fruit and vegetable shops will be selling quantities that are small enough to carry home, and won’t spoil in the next few days. The box stores will seem vacant, but that’s only because there aren’t enough people in town to fill them.

In the evening, the city will seem less lively, but more youthful. The young people who live here will make their way out for dinner, filling only about four of the twelve available seats. Afterwards, they’ll either head home or out for a quiet drink at any one of the handful of pubs that seat no more than 25 or 30 people. It’s at these pubs that you’ll hear the most noise, if you venture inside. You can find a knitting circle gathered early in the week, a karaoke night in the middle of the week, a live band on the weekend, or an art show that’s only in town for a few nights. You might even stumble into a pub that is showing a hockey game.

These pubs and restaurants are sparse and separated by a block or two. From one, you can’t see or hear another. This distance helps keep the streets quiet, and uninviting to anybody who is hoping for the town to entertain them. You have to stop in and experience the people inside of these places, to truly appreciate what each has to offer. If you plan to take an evening stroll to clear your head, be prepared to sit down on a bar stool. It’s warmer inside, anyway, and the breeze that comes off the lakes is cool, biting, and crisp, much like a good pint. Be sure to bring a book with you, because the people here know to travel with company of their own.

Once you’ve visited a few places, you’ll find yourself most comfortable at one, or two, of them. You’ll return, thinking that there really isn’t anywhere else worth going. You’ll start forgetting to bring a book with you, knowing that you’ll run into somebody you’ve seen before; somebody who has already walked the quiet streets in the evening. You’ll come to expect what the evening will bring, and find yourself surprised by a new face. You’ll learn the barman’s/barmaid’s name, and he’ll/she’ll know yours. You’ll start to become familiar. You’ll become familiar.

It’s at this point that you’ll start to feel like you’re running out of time, because familiarity takes time to establish.

But, then, as it does, it will snow. It’ll start slowly, keeping you in for a night. You’ll miss watching from afar the young women of the knitting circle whom you know (so, it’s not creepy) on a Monday night. The hockey game will be easier to watch from your couch. You heard the band that’s playing tonight play last week.

It’ll snow again, and again, and then again, and it won’t seem as bad as the first or previous time. You’ll venture out, walking through the quieted streets, further emptied by the wariness of others to trudge through the snow that hasn’t yet been shovelled to the side. From the intersection, you’ll smile at the dim lights signalling warmth at your favourite spot. Once you walk up, you’ll peer through the window and see a lone bartender skimming through his iTunes playlist. You weren’t expecting much, anyway.

You’re alone, as well, with your book, and forgot that others are still waiting for their company to join them. In an hour, or two, the 24 empty seats will fill. The music playing from the one speaker in the far corner of the bar will be drowned out with chatter and laughter that is not yours. You could join the conversation of the people you know, but you’re happy with your book. You’re happy with the silent conversation you’re having with your thoughts.

When you peer out the window, for a change of scenery, you’ll see the quiet snows that accompanied you here. You’ll close your book, and listen inattentively to the noise that surrounds you. You’ll smile at the thought of knowing that you’re spending your time, in spite of the quiet of the snow.


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