This past weekend, somewhere between Cambridge and Paris, a trillium waved a white-gloved hand in my direction. And yes, it caught my attention.
I’ve likely caught yours, too, tossing off place names that conjure up images of old stone and ivied walls, of cobbled streets and majestic arches. Before you begin hearing the swish of academic gowns or smell the scent of fresh baguettes, let me reorient you. Or, to quote your GPS, recalibrate, please.
Ontario, I have discovered, can lay claim to its own Cambridge and boast about Paris in the springtime. And while they are nothing at all like their European counterparts (except, perhaps, that both have rivers at their centres), I liked both well enough to want to make return visits.
I’d also like to go back to the original Cambridge and Paris someday, having made brief, but idyllic visits to both cities. But that is fodder for another day. For now, my heart belongs to a small Canadian city and its even smaller neighbouring town.
Or, perhaps I should be more specific. My heart belongs somewhere along the pleasant country road that spans the distance between Cambridge and Paris. Just off that road, on path winding through the woods, I was saluted by trillium. And not just one, but by hundreds.
It was, I think, one of the best welcome-to-Ontario gestures I’ve experienced since I first took up official residence here in January.
I’ve seen Ontario’s official flower growing in New Brunswick, where a deep purple variety grows on a friend’s property along side a northwestern lake I like to visit. I never got around to asking my friend if she’d planted the flowers, or if they sprouted on their own accord.
But I remember the first time I saw them. It was early May and the ground was still littered by the detritus of last year’s leaves. Everything was earthy brown, with just a flash of emerald green here and there thanks to pockets of moss.
Then, those purple trillium would appear, elegant and so well dressed, proud to be among the first brave flowers to break through the clods of a spent and buried season. Trillium are like an advance infantry, a sure sign that winter is on the retreat.
I gave little thought to winter on Saturday as I walked through the woods with several Ontario friends, who kindly invited this Maritimer along on their inland hike. To be honest, I wasn’t giving much thought to trillium either.
Instead, I was thinking about mayflowers, which are Nova Scotia’s emblematic flower, and a significant first sign of spring to me and many of my closest east-coast friends.
Last Saturday, had I been back in Atlantic Canada, I likely would have been sloshing about in bracken and bog, looking for mayflowers.
Unlike the stately trillium, mayflowers wear tattered green leaves that are far too big for their diminutive size. Lift the leaves and you’ll discover delicate undergarments and the sweetest perfume. They never salute, preferring, I think, to keep their pink underwear away from prying eyes.
So there I was, walking through the Ontario woods, feeling a little nostalgic for my springtime pursuits in the life I once knew. Just one clump of mayflowers, I thought, would make me feel so at home.
And then, the waving trillium caught my attention. I bent down to make its acquaintance, and the rest, as they say, was history. I was smitten. I stopped looking for mayflowers and started looking for more trillium. And suddenly, they were everywhere.
They leaned against the trunks of trees, spilled across hillsides, paraded in their white dress clothes in small valleys. Time and time again I stopped to take their pictures., telling my Ontario friends to walk on ahead. I’d catch up.
I’ve wondered over the past few months what I would find to love about Ontario. It’s not that I’m unwilling to give allegiance to this new province. It’s just that it’s so much bigger, so much more populated than anywhere I’ve ever lived before. I’ve not been quite sure where to start.
It’s not that Ontario has been unwelcoming, either. The province has issued me a driver’s license, plated my car and provided me with a health card (along with an invitation to a colostomy clinic. A weird welcome, but I guess it’s one way of showing someone cares).
I have an Ontario postal code and, I’ve discovered somewhat to my amusement, a much-coveted 416-telephone number (it seems they are in short supply).
But none of those offerings have been quite enough. None have made quite the impression as a simple salute by a trillium. Thanks to that, for the briefest moment, I felt at home.
Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. Her column appears each Friday in the Moncton Times & Transcript. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon.