Ah, the thrill of the open road — on my bicycle. It’s summer time and tooling down a country lane on two wheels makes me feel like a kid out of school. I wish I could enjoy the wind in my hair too, but I’m a grown-up and wear a helmet, as all sensible cyclists do. But even with the helmet, there’s a sense of freedom in gliding down a hill, then pedalling furiously to keep the momentum and get up the other side without stopping.
On my journey I passed a field of new-mown hay. Nothing says summer like the smell of fresh-cut hay. That wonderful combination of green and dust and sweetness and a touch of engine oil fill the air with music and memory.
If this were the perfect summer day of my school days, my ride would end at a clear blue lake with a sandy bottom. I’d dive into the water, gasp at the sudden cold, then settle in for a gentle swim, before turning on my back and floating while looking at the sky above.
We just celebrated Canada Day in my land. It’s a day we commemorate the confederation of our country. There’s a big party on parliament hill, but most of the population marks the day with a BBQ in the backyard, or a picnic at the lake. Sometimes there are fireworks, but mostly it’s a day to enjoy summer and the freedom to bicycle down a country lane without fear. A time to enjoy family and neighbours, maybe get a little sun-burned and collect a few mosquito bites. That may sound dull, but to me it’s a lot like my bike ride — an exercise in freedom and the pleasure of summer.
Happy Canada Day to my fellow countrymen, and Happy Independence Day to my American neighbours.
Today, May 17, is Independence Day in Norway. The date commemorates the signing of the Norwegian constitution in 1814 that ended a 100 year coalition with Sweden and, prior to that, 400 years of Danish rule.
Nearly every country in the world has a national day that celebrates their liberation from some other power. The U.S.A celebrates on July 4, Canada on July 1, Australia on January 1 (that’s summer down under). France has Bastille Day, July 14, to commemorate the abolition of feudalism and the arbitrary rule of the King. Even England, the country from which many nations of the world today won their freedom, has Magna Carta Day on June 15, to celebrate a cornerstone in the development of a modern, parliamentary democracy. Just as children grow up and leave home, mature nations are eager to be autonomous — but with favourable trade agreements in place.
The same thing happens in families. As we grow up, we demand independence, but at the same time we strive for connections. This seems to be an eternal struggle of the human condition, autonomy vs connectedness. It’s also a rich source of inspiration for writers. How many times have you read about a heroine who is determined to escape the stifling influence of her family/job/school/location, only to then find herself adrift and desperately seeking a deep connection with another. I’ve just finished writing a short story where the heroine struggles with this problem. Does she carry on as expected or does she break free? Does freedom mean loneliness? The story is part of a collection that celebrates Canada’s 150th birthday.
Our independence from Britain was a gradual process. We went to war in 1914 because England declared war on Germany. In 1929 the Privy Council of Britain was the final court of appeal for a group of Canadian women seeking to have females declared “persons” under the law. It wasn’t until 1982 that our last legal ties with Britain ended with the patriation of our constitution. Just like nations, families break apart in various ways, some with anger and violence, like South Sudan, others more peacefully.
The desire for independence vs the yearning for deep connections seems to be one of those universal truths of the human condition. For writers, that’s a good thing. We need only to look at our own families to find grist for the story mill.