An Aussie in Edmonton
By Meg McCready
I arrived in Edmonton with a suitcase in one hand, a laptop in the other and, in my pocket, a letter of acceptance into the professional writing program at Grant MacEwan. That was 3 years ago. Now I've nearly finished the writing program, and Edmonton has become my home.
That first winter was hard. I'd come from the subtropical beaches of Byron Bay on the northeast coast of Australia where winter temperatures can plummet as low as 10 degrees. Here, I was faced with average daytime temperatures of -25 C and no car. The day the temperature reached an inconceivable -36 C, I stayed in bed and missed class. (They say only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. I say only mad Canadians go out in those temperatures.) Luckily for my studies, that only happened once during the first winter. By the second winter, I'd toughened up.
But then came spring. My landlady, who had become my friend, lent me her old bike to explore the nearby river valley, a green haven of parklands and natural bush that runs through the centre of the city. Before moving to Edmonton, the last time I'd ridden a bicycle was when I was a teenager some 40 years ago. Now, I started pedalling everywhere. I re-discovered that cycling's fun. I love tootling about on my bike, especially on those perfect, sunny days when there's a freshness in the air and the temperature hovers around 20 degrees. (Edmonton has surprisingly clean air – I guess because it's smack in the middle of the Prairies.)
After a couple of years, I bought my own bike. By then, my partner and I had a car but, as he works and I don't, he gets first dibs on it. So my main mode of transport – at least while the temperature remains above freezing – is my bike. Edmonton is full of cyclists, real cyclists with bulbous calves in skintight, shiny yellow outfits on bikes with low handlebars. For these athletes, hills hardly exist. I'm, unfortunately, not one of them. I'm a brakes-on-going-downhill and a get-off-and-push-going-uphill sort of cyclist. But I'm very good on the flat. This is just as well as I really haven't mastered gears yet. When I was a girl, bikes had bells, baskets and brakes. The better-equipped ones had lights too. Gears were for cars.
Despite being a less-than-athletic cyclist, I did get fitter and I did drop a couple of dress sizes, which gave me a wonderful excuse to go shopping. I'm a devotee of second-hand clothes shops and have been for decades. When I first saw the size of the thrift shops in Edmonton, I was stunned. I was used to hole in the wall places slightly larger than an average washroom. These shops were so vast they offered their customers shopping trolleys. Oh boy. All my birthdays, anniversaries and Christmases had come at once.
So now I have lived here for 3 years, what's changed and is it for the better? Well, I know a dangling modifier from a misplaced one, which – I think you will agree – is a useful thing to know. I have an ever-changing wardrobe of clothes, all in sizes I could never have got into a few years ago. And I believe I can detect the beginnings of bulbous calf muscles. Oh, and I'm mad enough to go out in temperatures of -36 C, just like a real Canadian.