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October 14, 2022

A ride to the Eastern Townships

Early last Friday, I left my beautiful surroundings in the Laurentians and headed south towards the Eastern Townships, and more precisely Lake Brome, where my girlfriend Mireille lives. She’s been spending her summers there for the last 30 years. Far removed from the buzz of the lake at summertime and tucked away in the forest, her property is surrounded by magnificent mature trees, a thousand wild flowers and a huge sloped lawn perfect for young kids to roll down. We are the same age, still hanging on to our good looks, full of life and passionate about poetry and writing.

After a few coffees, sandwiches and a long moment catching up with each other, Mireille suggests a visit of the surrounding area. The weather is just perfect and nature is at its best. We drive along and talk, burst out in laughter from time to time and stare in amazement at the enormous quilt made of green squares covering the land.

I insist that we visit the Grange à livres (book barn) in Saint-Armand, a place I had heard mentioned a few times. We drive towards the southeast and are both dazzled by our discovery: a huge old barn transformed into a used-book paradise. A space so calm, so relaxing and so magnificent, that you would think you had stepped into a fairy tale.

Mireille and I are true bookworms and we spend a few hours happily leafing through whatever interests us. To our surprise, we learn that we can borrow several books without any type of subscription, return date or late fees. It turns out that this magical place operates on the principle that other bookworms will return their borrowed items so other people can enjoy them.

The owners of the Grange also run the Clos de l’Orme Blanc (the White Elm Vineyard), an old winery they brought back to life in 2009. Their values of pleasure, harmony, respect, sharing and simplicity are abundantly apparent.

The former business woman in me views this venture a dream come true, an entrepreneurial wonderland. We sample the nouveau wine, buy two good bottles and leave the place nearly teary eyed.

Around 5 p.m., we stop at the grocery store to buy a barbecued chicken, leafy greens, vegetables and HÄAGEN-DAZS ice cream for dessert. Satisfied and even a little tipsy, we are back to being the young students we once were, who would sleep over at each other’s houses, chatting late into the night, recreating the world and daring to proclaim our dreams for the future. I fall asleep at dawn, the joyful prisoner of a thousand bookshelves as high as the sky.

I try in vain to persuade my girlfriend to head into town on Saturday morning. On Highway 10 to Montreal, my morning-after head needs airing out. I open the windows wide. Near Granby, I make a right turn into a rest area and grab my first coffee of the day.

10:20 a.m. I am finally waking up! Traffic is smooth and I am driving at 100 km/h. I truly love to drive, especially in my brand-new sage green Mini Cooper. I’ve only had it for three days! The previous one was mouse grey. I still can’t master the electronic display screen, but I know how to turn on the radio. That’s the most important thing. I am waiting for the French instruction manual I was promised. I’ll travel this short trip on the first tank of gas included in the purchase.

The more I drive, the more my head sobers up. Hidden behind a cloud, a helicopter pilot is keeping an eye on the traffic around the Samuel-De Champlain Bridge. All is well in my direction; I am going against the traffic. City dwellers are heading out of the city as I head into it. I drive across the island and get onto Highway 15 North. I notice that many Montrealers are now joining me on my road home. Traffic thickens. Thankfully, my head completely clears up. It becomes so clear that I think of my friend Mireille again and our conversations of our futures as near centenarians who are still alive and well.

Last May, I started my last quarter of a century. Who on earth can tell me what I should do with it? Shall I continue living like I always have? Of course. Slow down a bit, avoid taking risks, watch what I eat, sleep longer nights, eat less, pray more? Who will tell me what tomorrow will bring? Is there still time to start something new?

This strange reflection suddenly climbs towards the hills faster than my new car. Should I stop this self-questioning? Which wise person can foretell what I may continue to hope for?

I, who only dream of setting off on new expeditions, acquiring new knowledge, tasting new adventures. I, who love to always learn more and to improve everything I experience. What age will be the right time to sound the bell? I want to die healthy, a fountain pen in hand while a lemon cake bakes in the oven. I don’t want to stop watering my plants or pedalling the new stationary bike my youngest son just installed for me in the library.

I certainly do not want to give up on my dream of becoming a true storyteller one day. I implore you up there, please let me continue to do what I do well and what makes me feel good. We old folks all dream of a long second youth to exhaust all our desires and empty the bucket list of our dreams.

Yesterday morning at the coffee shop in town, my friend the bush pilot recounts his recent weeklong vacation in Cape Cod with his children and grandkids. He talks about their fishing expeditions and mountain climbing, but mostly about the delicious fish dinners prepared by his oldest son’s mother-in-law. While he describes their seafood feasts, the pilot gets excited as he tells me that American seagulls, which are twice as big as ours, feed on crab, among other things. He goes on to explain that seagulls have a clever way of cracking open hard crab shells: they seize their prey with their beak, fly high enough into the sky and let them fall onto the asphalt where the shell shatters, allowing the seagull to finally get at the poor crab’s head and body.

Eew! What an atrocious ending!