Sunday, March 30, 2014

You Can Never Go Back

I love rules with a fierce veracity—they’re the guiding principles that dictate our lives—government, legal or self-imposed. But when it comes to travel, I only follow three:

1. Leave while you’re still having fun. 

2. Holidays romances should remain as such. Nothing destroys the magic of a holiday romance faster than creating unnecessary opportunities to see your lover settled into the mundane tedium of their everyday life, sorting their recycling and buying toilet paper. 
3. And above all else, you can never go back—places only exist as a moment in time. 
I broke all of these rules when I decided to return to Sydney this February. It had been less than a year since I’d been there last and as soon as I booked my tickets, I knew it was a mistake.

It was during my second week in Australia that Jules and I boarded a train westbound for Katoomba. Settled happily into our seats, Jules leaned into me and read the newspaper aloud. But as the city slid away and softened into the blur of trees, I couldn’t stop drawing comparisons.

I’d been to the Blue Mountains once before, in August of 2006. That summer is like bookends—on one side is the six weeks I spent volunteering in Vanuatu. On the other is my return to Canada and the news of my ex-boyfriend’s suicide.

And right in the middle of all that uncertainty is a night spent in Katoomba.

Since then, the Blue Mountains have become cemented in my mind and, in some ways, almost mythologized. It’s the place that I first felt like an adult. It's also the first place that I think I really felt happy travelling alone. And because of that, I never thought I’d go back.

Yet, here I was, eight years later.

It was misty out when we started to walk through the bush and up towards the trails near Blackheath. As we hiked, Jules recounted childhood stories. Around each corner, we were returning to someplace he'd been before. With dismay, he pointed out ways the trail had changed. But somehow, it didn’t matter. Instead, we went off the track, looking for new paths to explore, before finally settling down below the tree canopy to eat our picnic lunch.

The sky started to clear and the sound of whip birds echoed through the valley.  

That night I stood on the front porch, wine in hand, watching the rain pour down and counting the lightning strikes.

“One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three one-thousand. . .”

The storm rolled around us and I told Jules about the forest behind my childhood home in Cold Lake, one of my favourite places in the world. Earlier that morning, I’d received an email from my Dad that it’d been unceremoniously torn down.

You can never go back.

I'm starting to learn that there's something sacred in the way that places were only ever meant to exist as moments in time.

And more importantly, I'm starting to learn that some rules are made to be broken.

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