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When the red maple leaf touches the heart

When I travel in the United States, I always have a feeling a little like you might feel if you came home and found that all your furniture had been moved around. Things feel familiar and foreign, all at the same time.

Posted on Fri, Oct 18th, 2019 11:25 am by Paul Knowles (first published in Metroland Community Newspapers)

This time, I was in Michigan, back at one of my favourite places – Treetops Resort in Gaylord Michigan. I was on a “research” assignment – which in this case, meant playing golf on some of the best courses around. I know, I know… but I was working, that’s my story, and I am sticking to it.

As I crossed the bridge from Sarnia to Port Huron – and survived the always-anxious business at customs – I was so aware that I was leaving my home and native land, and heading onto foreign soil.

My feelings about the US are ambivalent. I am not a fan of all the political machinations there, and the extreme tribalism worries me – especially because it might be contagious – but I have a lot of good friends and acquaintances (not to mention relatives) who are American. And quick frankly, I like them, a lot – including some of the folks who make things so warm and welcoming for me at Treetops.

One thing I realized: spending time in the US – or any other foreign country, for that matter – invariably makes me feel a lot of affection and, yes, gratitude, for Canada. Any of us born in this country have won the lottery – through no choice or merit of our own, we are Canadians, and that is a damned fine thing to be.

And there is nothing that drives that home more than travelling elsewhere. Sure, there is a great deal of pleasure to be derived in visiting other lands, but coming home is often the greatest pleasure of all.

On this trip, I got to experience that twice, because after Treetops, I continued north on a more genuinely journalistic assignment in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (a city I have come to appreciate a lot over two visits in the last few months). So I crossed back into Canada at the Sault, and immediately felt that easing of tension that seeing the red maple leaf flag brings.

And coming home, I drove straight through from the Sault to Sarnia, and again… breathed easy at the sight of the first Canadian flag in Ontario.

I am a big fan of travelling. I find it a bit concerning that only 60% of Canadians hold a passport – and even fewer, 42%, for Americans. That’s a lot of people missing out on something special.

Travel definitely broadens the mind, but it also touches the heart… including the trip that brings you back home.