A Slice of ParadiseT. SHER SINGH
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
When I fled the big city more than two decades ago and made the City of Guelph my home, part of the charm of being there was the ability to explore and experience rural Ontario without having to spend hours in the purgatory of highways getting to and fro.
One summer weekend, not long after I had moved into town, I drove eastwards from the town with no destination in mind. I had no map because my plans were to do nothing but potter through the countryside.
I switched roads whenever I came across one that I hadn’t been on before, or which looked interesting.
I turned here and I turned there, and suddenly I found myself in heaven.
A little hamlet, suddenly, in the middle of nowhere (“Erewhon“?). A mill, a pond, a stream, a couple of lonely bridges, a few lazy houses. A lot of green. Flowers everywhere. Gentle whispers of water and leaves.
No motels. No coffee shops. Not even a Tim Horton’s. No cafes. No souvenir shops. No gas stations. No traffic lights.
A few people around at this time of the morning. But nobody rushing to get anywhere. People simply strolled across the road, without furtive glances in every direction. They stopped and talked to each other -- yes, actually TALKED to each other!
I stole through somebody‘s back yard to get to the stream. I sat down on the unmanicured grass. A few children’s voices from around the corner: words and giggles bounced back and forth as if there was nowhere else to go.
Sounds of people moving around in kitchens and garages floated in from different directions. Some music wafted down from the house above me.
Everything was just right.
Finally, I had found a place where people had a real life.
After a few hours by the water-side, reading a book I had brought with me, I tucked away memories of this place, to be savoured later, and drove away. I couldn’t find the name of the place. I forgot to make a note of the road numbers and the turns when I left.
When I tried to find the village again later in the summer, I couldn’t. I discovered other nooks in the country, but just couldn’t retrace my steps to this particular one. I didn’t mind -- I chalked it off as a midsummer night’s dream!
The following year, I headed eastwards again, with a brochure in hand. To a writers’ festival.
I followed the directions: I swung right from the highway. Drove a couple of miles. The map said, turn left. The road turned into a lane. It dipped between a bunch of houses, and disappeared behind a crowd of trees.
I emerged from their shadows … and I was back in heaven again.
Appropriately named Eden Mills!
That was 22 years ago.
Ever since that Columbus-like discovery of paradise -- I should’ve named it another India and its natives ‘Indians‘, but I loved them too much! -- I went back often … to stop and look, to stroll, to relax. And, pleasure of pleasures, to hear authors read from their works, by the millpond, once every year, at what has now become a world-renowned event: The Eden Mills Writers’ Festival.
Imagine. To hear Timothy Findley, and Margaret Atwood, and Rohinton Mistry, and Nino Ricci, and Michael Ondaatje, and Tom King, and Alistair McLeod, and Eden Mills’ own Leon Rooke and Janice Kulyk Keefer, and Tomson Highway, and … Shauna Singh Baldwin and Jaspreet Singh too have graced the glen. All reading from their own creations. In the lazy late-summer sun, in the open air. With the breeze murmuring through the leaves and shimmering the water, behind the reader. Sitting on the grass, in the amphitheatres of people’s lawns as they cascaded down into the river.
They had actually managed to improve on heaven!
* * * * *
It didn’t take long … many in the village became close friends.
I discovered, for example, that the lawn I had sat on for hours that idyllic first visit belonged to new and dear friends. I became involved with the Festival. It virtually became a second home. At one point, I even considered, seriously, buying a place and moving there.
Then, one by one some of my friends moved away. A few have died. A few dear ones still remain in the village, but now it is I who has moved away an hour north of here.
I haven’t been back for a few years.
Until last Sunday.
On a whim I had called some friends. Hadn’t spoken to them since I had moved north. It happened to be the morning of this year’s fest!
It didn’t take much to lure me back on a moment’s notice. So, I was back in paradise again to imbibe in its delights.
It’s still there. Still untouched. Still glorious. Still green. Still warm. Still peopled with good and dear friends.
Some things, mercifully, never change.
Not surprisingly. For Eden Mills reminds me, will always remind me, of the friend who introduced me to the village, the one who along with her husband Leon founded the writers’ festival, the one we lost not too long ago to cancer.
After all, her name was Constance Rooke
Conversation about this article
1: Avinash (Pakistan ), September 18, 2012, 9:16 AM.