Travelling was tedious.
Logically, the end destination was the looming cosmopolis of Vancouver, a proper city where people actually lived and a city that actually had functional public transportation. More importantly, a city where my sister’s skating competition was to take place. But, deep in the forests of Banff or Yoho or Jasper or whatever national park we were passing through, it felt as though there was no end destination in sight: only endless stretches of mountainous forests. We’d drive around the bend, following the road, hoping that this would be the end of the forest only to see yet another forested mountain before us. Every hundred kilometres or so a lake would appear to interrupt the monotony of the forest. The still, aquamarine blue of the water was deceptively enticing. Each successive lake was stunning to look at, but the mountain water was far too cold to splash around in.
And then there were the deer.
So, so many deer.
A deer with a spotty coat stood tall before the swatches of dead forest. Being the tourists we were, we stopped the car on the shoulder of the road so we could get out and take pictures. It was an embarrassingly urbanite practice but we were embarrassingly urbanite tourists who wanted an authentic photo of a wild deer.
A closer look showed that the uneven splotches on the deer’s coat was not the natural colouration of the fur. The splotches were longer patches of fur that were much lighter and somewhat matted. What would cause such splotchiness?
“Why are the trees dead?” my sister interjected, pointing behind the deer at the large swath of forest that was, indeed, dead. But, no matter: I got my photo. Dead trees were of no consequence to me. They were already dead. But the deer, the deer was still alive and its head twisted slowly to the side before shaking rapidly. Perhaps the deer’s splotchy coat was the consequence of a forest fire that had gotten just a little too close. A fire would explain the trees too. But no matter, only the deer was alive.
Later on, there was a traffic jam. Naturally, it was caused by a herd of mountain goats crossing the road. Canada, eh? Based on experience, the two leading causes of traffic jams are snow and wild animals, because we just can’t seem to win against nature. But that was okay with me. With the traffic having slowed to a crawl on the highway, I rolled down the window and stuck my upper body out of the car. If we were going to be stuck here because of goats, then we were going to come out with phenomenal photos of goats. A cursory glance at the cars around us showed that I was not the only embarrassing urbanite sticking half my body out of the car.
The goats had no sense of road safety. There was no reason why they would; we were the ones who built roads and infrastructure through their homes.
That said, I couldn’t help the irritation bubbling in me. It didn’t take long to take the desired photos — especially since the goats weren’t doing anything particularly exciting. But the goats in question were crossing in the slowest possible manner. Diagonally, but at such a subtle angle they may as well have been walking in a straight line. And there were so many goats. Originally, they were just on the shoulder of the road so the cars before us just slowed down when passing them. But, being goats with no respect for the tarred lines, they quickly branched out into our lane which stopped traffic completely. A handful of cars switched into the opposing lane — despite the solid yellow divider — to skip past the rest of us. Eventually, the goats did get off the road to climb back up the mountainous slope. Those goats never ended up crossing the road. They just went right. Back. Where. They. Came. From.
At least finish what you started.
But then, it was that mindset that led to our current predicament with those goats. We weren’t heading to Vancouver for anything fun; we were heading to Vancouver because we collectively decided we needed to make my sister a skating champion. Because if we were going to spend that much money on her, then my sister was going to have to be the best figure skater. Accordingly, my sister was stressed about the competition because “what if I fall and don’t make the podium?” Dad was stressed because “what if the goats damage our paint job with their horns?” Mom was stressed because half my body was still dangling out the rear window and “what if we suddenly start driving and you get hurt?”
I, too, was stressed because I almost had the perfect framing for a snapshot of the goats prancing off the road. Here they were, finally being exciting and I was just this close —
Satisfied with the mountains looming over the goats in my photo, I ducked back into the car and rolled the window back up. Unlike the goats, I did finish what I set out to do: take a good picture of them. My goals didn’t remain abstract hypotheticals because I set them low enough to be achievable. Taking a photo of a goat was no major feat, but I still felt the warmth of achievement as I flipped through my new photos. My parents and sister were stressing over the upcoming competition and growing increasingly aggravated with the goats on the road. Would we be late? What if the goats charge at our car? What if the goats made us miss my sister’s competition?
But I had zoned out from those big “what-ifs.” I was perfectly content with my new photos.
Once the goats left the road, traffic picked back up again and soon we were once again on our way to Vancouver. A hundred kilometres per hour, with only trees and rocks and the occasional lake to observe. With nothing to catch my attention, I slipped back into my drowsy half-asleep state.
At some point, we crossed the border from Alberta into British Columbia. I didn’t know when, though.
The forest looked no different in British Columbia, and I had missed the welcome sign.