Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year - In Loreto!

Happy New Year!

I am writing this while I am enroute (at 35,000 ft.) back to Mexico after spending the last three weeks visiting family and friends in Calgary. While the Holiday season is a good time to renew the connections, and I have enjoyed spending time with these people who live so far away from Loreto, I am excited and happy to be on the return leg of my journey.

The most obvious thing I have missed over the three weeks I have been away is, of course, the weather. When I left from Cabo the temperature was about 30 degrees Celsius and when I arrived in Calgary it was minus 17 – almost a 50 degrees difference! Although the temperature has fluctuated during my stay (it got up to plus 4 on Christmas Day) it has been a sharp reminder of the sort of weather that I grew up with, although I was never one of those people who claimed to ENJOY the winters in Canada.

But even more than the temperature, I think the thing that struck me most was the amount of sunshine – or lack thereof - that northern latitudes receive at this, the darkest time of year. When the sun did shine it rose late, and set early, and it was so low on the southern horizon – bearing in mind that Calgary receives more sunny days a year than many other places in that latitude. It continued to be a shock throughout my visit, to experience this scarce amount of light on a daily basis, particularly after having adapted to the almost continuous 11 hours of sun I had been enjoying in Loreto. Although I was conscious of my southern tan fading almost on a daily basis, some people were still remarking right up to the end of my visit “How tanned you look!” – I guess these things are relative.

Another vivid impression from this trip is the adaptability of the human body and spirit. While there are certainly extremes of temperature and humidity in Mexico, particularly during the summer months, and even the potential for occasional extreme weather events like Tropical Storms or Hurricanes in the Fall. But when it’s minus 27 degrees with the wind chill, exposed skin can freeze in a matter of minutes and there is a real risk of death from hypothermia, if one is not careful and prepared for the Canadian winter. And yet, in spite of these potentially lethal conditions, most people go about their day to day activities with remarkably few changes from their routines at more temperate times of the year.

One of the things that struck me most, was that I was making these observations as someone who had spent 90% of my life living and working in Canada, and while I grumbled and complained my share about the weather during that time, I never really thought about it as being abnormal – it was just the way things were. (I’ve heard it said that the reason Canadians spend so much time talking about the weather is that we have SO MUCH of it to talk about!) But now that I spend more than half the year in one of the most ideal climates on the continent – how soon I forget! So now I watch with wonder as I see people, old and young, fit or frail, coping with ice and snow, slippery streets and hazardous walks, bundled in winter coats and boots – apparently oblivious to the extreme conditions that they take for granted at this time of year.

But my reactions were not all about the weather. One of the biggest adjustments was the pace and complications of life in a busy urban environment like Calgary (population 1 million). To begin with – traffic! Between weather related slowdowns, commuter rushes, and construction delays, I found that I could spend a significant part of the day either trying to get to somewhere, or get back, or find somewhere to park while I was there. This situation was of course exacerbated by the time of year and the incredible amount of time and effort that goes into Christmas shopping in the North American consumer society.

With acres of cars packed around huge indoor Malls, the first challenge is just to find a parking space within sight of where you intended to go! Once you are inside these temples of commerce you are then surrounded by all the people whose cars are parked outside – the oldest and youngest with their various wheeled vehicles in common – and everyone else carrying numerous bags and packages. The people seem oblivious to the intricate decorations and displays that surround them as they work their way through the steady flow of shoppers making headway to their next destination in search of even more to buy.

When I see this scene of consumerism gone overboard I can’t help but compare it to the quaint, by contrast, alternative in Loreto. Simply put, shopping in Loreto is a necessity, not an activity. People buy what they need with a minimum of fuss and bother – primarily because there isn’t all that much to buy, beyond the everyday necessities. Sure, the toy aisle of the local Pescador supermarket is stocked with a larger variety of simple and inexpensive gifts, and there are some temporary kiosks set up with seasonal decorations and you can even find the odd natural Christmas tree for sale. But Christmas in Loreto is about things other than THINGS – time spent with family and friends, the church, posadas or parties where traditions are not measured by how much you spend and who you buy for.

But, as I reflect on the past several weeks spent in a place far away – that I used to call home – I am struck by how demanding the pace and complexity of life is for those people I have left behind, and how simple life can be in a place like Loreto. How it is not uncommon for my Loretano friends and neighbours to comment on how they manage to keep “busy” day to day, even though they are hard pressed to explain, or sometimes even remember, how they spend their time. How accomplishing one, seemingly simple task, represents a satisfying achievement for the day. How a trip into town to buy a few groceries, or just a walk on the Golf Course with the dog is a reasonable agenda.

I will admit that sometimes I have found myself chaffing at the slow pace of life in Loreto, and the time that it can take to accomplish seemingly simple things. But, as I return home after my visit to “the Great White North” perhaps the biggest gift I am bringing back with me is a renewed appreciation of the simple things that can be easily overlooked with familiarity. My return is also one of those “learning moments” where I take measure and realize how this special place has begun to change me from the winter dwelling, high achieving, materially driven person I was, into someone who lives in a different rhythm and is beginning to reflect those changes day to day, as I experience and learn about “Living Loreto”.

Let me say it again – Happy New Year!