Cold Hands, Big Smiles, Warm Hearts
Christmas came early for us this year. It came early and it came in two parts. One application for Canadian Permanent Residency approved, and one perfect dose of the Great White North.
It was early morning on my 26th birthday when we learned that Laura’s Canadian permanent residency application might be approved in time for the holidays. We were headed into the Thar Desert. A beautiful and remote patch of sand and scrub on the India-Pakistan border. No noise, no people. Only us, our camels (Johnny Boy & Al Pacino), sunrises, sunsets and endless expanses of stars. Surrounded by all this beauty and full of that morning’s knowledge, it was the best birthday I could have imagined.
Fast forward three weeks. After a mad dash getting our final documents submitted, we had sat chewing our fingernails waiting on a response before throwing caution to the wind and booking ourselves in for the 14,000-km journey from India to Vancouver. It’s been eighteen months since we last set foot on Canadian Soil. Even after all that time, it was still a last-minute decision. We only hoped that the big man in red would grant our biggest wish this holiday season. He did not disappoint.
We got the news surrounded by family and friends, and celebrated it with a trip into the British Columbia backcountry. Into the most beautiful winter wonderland.
A new fire crackled merrily while darkness settled. We gathered around the old wood-burning stove, stretching out fingers and toes stiff with cold towards the flickering light. They uncurled slowly and suspiciously at first, and then quickly and greedily in the growing warmth. Wet boots sat steaming beside the fire and a pot sizzled above it. Snow working its way reluctantly back to water. A collective sigh of relief. Aching backs and tired limbs happy to ease their load. We coaxed the feeling back into our frozen bits and felt the smiles broaden on our windswept faces. We had made it. And as we sat atop our mountain, lost in the deepening night the pain of the day quickly faded from memory to be replaced by the bliss that comes from being alone at the end of the world.
The morning had started full of anticipation. The previous day’s incessant rain and snow had cleared leaving behind a fresh morning and a bluebird sky. You need to take advantage of the sun when it chooses to shine in the West Coast winter. We intended to do exactly that.
The forest was radiant. Blanketed, rolling snow spread throughout the valley. Hidden streambeds weaved beneath whiteness while trees towered above us. We worked our way ever upwards past frozen lakes and over fallen logs heaped with snow. Our snowshoed boots padded lightly through the silence with only animal prints for company.
Lonesome timber cabins came and went. They sat warm and sheltered in the woods, but we had loftier goals. Our steaming breath hung in the air as we struggled on, over ever steepening ridges and through ever deepening snow. The trees thinned slowly, unveiling a waning afternoon sun. Shafted light filtered through powdered boughs and as we watched, it changed from dusty gold to rose. We stood there in the deepening twilight, clenching our frozen fingers and surrendering to our stubborn feet. Transfixed, with no will to move. The moon sank slowly over forgone peaks and seas, chasing the last strips of pink and orange towards the horizon.
Our final steps towards the cabin, our long-awaited oasis of shelter and warmth were guided by torchlight. Dropping our packs and arching our aching backs we could see the first far off stars shimmering in the blackness; a veiled promise of things to come.
The night passed clear and cold. The Milky Way shone richly overhead, casting a gentle silver light upon the snow. Shooting stars streaked by one after the other until finally, standing there on a mountaintop, in the snow, beneath countless stars, we ran out of wishes.
Come morning, we found the ocean and valley blanketed with cloud. Standing at the mountain’s peak, alone on an island, we looked out at all the others thrust up through a rolling sea of fog. The sun woke slowly in the east. Its rays stretched sleepily across those weightless waves, gradually finding purchase on the spires of stone and snow until they found us. High above this glorious vista they soothed our windswept faces and eased our stiffened hands.
There we stayed. Long past the time when our faces were frozen and our fingers had grown numb. We soaked ourselves in the rising sun. soothed our souls with silence and seared our lungs with icy air. Full of life, there we stayed. Blissfully removed, deep in the Canadian wilderness.