November 3, 2017: Closing Time
I’ve been standing for what seems like eons at the corner of or our cul-de-sac, waiting for my kids’ school bus to drop them off. It is running at least 10 minutes behind, delayed either by poor road conditions or other parents who weren’t there to meet their kids on time. All of us rushing to and fro.
Just a few moments ago, I had been in the house, talking on my cell phone with a colleague, when I suddenly realized the time. Without letting on to my collocutor on the other end of the line, I threw on my down jacket and my Sorels that I dug out of the basement just this morning. No gloves, no toque, I ran to the corner. That is often how my life is. I’m multitasking in ways invisible to my colleagues and research partners. Running somewhere, making supper, letting the dog in and drying his snow-encrusted paws, washing floors, dealing with bobos and crying kids (which actually, they do notice because of the howling and drama), all the while I just keep talking and working and responding to a seemingly infinite number of urgent issues and deadlines. Thousands of e-mails. Hundreds of text messages. Dozens of voice-mails. Too few minutes in a day.
The phone call has now ended. I probably brought the conversation to a more abrupt end than was necessary because my hand was freezing holding the phone to my ear. Plus, I know how the cold air runs the battery dead and I was conscious that my phone was low on power.
Now off the phone, I stand in the middle of our empty neighbourhood and, despite the cold, try to appreciate this moment of solitude and serenity. The whirring of traffic from Baseline Road just over the rooflines, beyond the backyards of our kindly neighbours, is muffled by the freshly fallen snow. The thoroughfare is called Baseline, because Township Road 530, its actual grid-location, was used as a baseline for surveying. Names hint at those histories we are largely unaware of. If we just take a moment, we can travel back in time a generation or two, or more figuring out where and why we’ve staked out the claims of certain territories. All the way to remembering how we got here to this moment: post-TRC. All built on roads like these. (See Colonization Road.) The same road further west is referred to as 101 Avenue. I’ve joked that I just keep moving further east down the same road, as we have more kids: from a Downtown address on 101 as a single woman, to 101 in Capilano, a central but more suburban neighborhood, all the way to now and to the actual suburbs. Each time the real-estate gets a little more expansive but a lot cheaper per square foot, and my commute increases significantly. We are separated from our old house, our former community, by the Imperial Oil Strathcona Refineries and the Suncor Energy Refinery. I remember a time before this urban sprawl, when Baseline demarcated the edge of this small suburban hamlet, bordering neighbourhoods on one side, with just farmlands and a church on the other. Now the rows and rows of condos and townhouses and giant sprawling mansions extend all the way to the Yellowhead Trail: another road that carries thousands of commuter and industrial vehicles through the province every day, passing through to British Columbia and the Yellowhead pass, connecting us to other major centres. Named with a nod to the existence of Indigenous peoples and cultures, while simultaneously working to render them historical — aiming to erase them from the future. I feel quite alone on the road. The many houses–organized one next to the other, each equidistant from the sidewalk, some with a tree or a pretty front deck to distinguish them, but all basically the same–all empty at this hour. Smoke spiralling out of their furnace stacks, they are heated and warm, waiting for the return of their occupants to return with the rush of other evening commuters after a long week of work.
I breathe in the cold air that freezes the moisture onto the small hairs on the inside of my nostrils. It is only the third day of snow this winter, and it is the first time the thermostat has hit really sub-zero temperatures. Factoring in the wind chill, the temperature is -20°C and I see my hands turning a deep red and I feel them starting to burn: my body confused about whether it is hot or cold. I jig, bending my knees and shifting my weight from right to left foot, to keep myself warm. I can feel my frozen jeans against my legs. I hear the denim crinkle as I move and the snow under the soles of my boots crunches as I dance around.
I start to think about this blog and my deep energy project. It is Friday at 4pm. The sun is already starting to set. I see it hanging low, just about to disappear behind the roof of a neighbour’s house. A city-bus and a few cars pass me on the road, everyone headed home, and I think about how I still need to come up with something “deep” to say about energy transition.
The only thing that comes to mind is the budget meeting I attended this morning. The dean of our faculty held an assemblée générale to explain what it will mean to have a 4% budget cut next year, followed by 2.5% for the two subsequent years. 9% less operating funds three years from now, not counting the cost of inflation. The dean remains calm. Reassuring us that our jobs, for the large part, are secure. He pleads with us not to believe rumours and come to him with any questions, so we not needlessly worry. He explains these highs and lows in the budget cycle are normal. Normal? I think to myself. The result of a petro-economy marked by boom and bust, more like it. As though he is reading my mind, he qualifies ‘normal’ within the context of post-secondary education in our province. Something university administrators in other provinces don’t find themselves at the mercy of every few years. There is so much to say about the way Albertans have internalized boom and bust cycles into the ‘normal’ rhythms of their lives, always anticipating the next upswing in the cycle. But, constant growth is an impossibility on a finite planet. I could say so much more, but I’ll save that for a future post. As the sun sets behind the rooflines of the houses across the street, my kids arrive in their yellow school bus, and from beyond the grave, I hear the sonorous voice of the late great Leonard Cohen singing his classic, Closing time, closing time…
(Image: Sun setting over a neighbourhood in winter.)