Lawn gnomes, country-style

(LA PECHE, Québec) —In the movie Six Degrees of Separation, Stockard Channing’s fed-up character proclaims that she doesn’t want to turn her life into anecdotes anymore. She wants to hold on to her experiences and protect them from punch lines. The longer I’m on this trip, the more I feel the same. But sometimes I can’t help myself. In the land of anecdotes, my Labor Day was pretty good.


Thick, green beauty near La Peche, Québec.

I spent a great deal of it either talking about or actively looking for a racist lawn ornament. You probably haven’t seen one of these things in years — the little, ceramic, black boys fishing or holding lanterns — but they’re still around in the rural, rolling farmlands of this province. My recent host, Diana, told me so and immediately suggested that she take me on a safari to see them. Like I (and probably most people), she finds that kind of blatant and unconscious racism alarming. But it’s also fascinating, from a sociological standpoint. She was itching to show me one of these disturbing figurines, and I was dying to see one.

This was not how I pictured my first trip to Québec. No, thanks to her and her partner, James, my stay was far more fun and fascinating than I had imagined.

I originally met Diana, a young Costa Rican woman, on I put up a note about needing some Ottawa digs for a few nights, and she messaged me and welcomed me to park my little house near her property, about half hour north of the nation’s capital. We met up at a large, country grocery store outside of her town, and from the very beginning, I knew this was going to be good. She gave me a hug, and immediately started talking enthusiastically. We went into the downtown area of the hippie, touristy burg of Wakefield, and we bought some bread and looked at shoes. Within half an hour, I felt like I had known her for a long while. I deeply enjoy people who are boisterous and happy and unapologetic about what pisses them off. I’m afraid to be so open, so every time I’m around someone that spontaneous, it warms my heart.


On the hunt for a lawn ornament.

“There is no color in this country!” she would say at times, bemoaning the lack of Canadian clothing choices in her rolling accent.

Having just returned from a yearlong stint as an au pair in France, she was still adjusting to being in Canada, where she has lived for the last eight years. It wasn’t that she was complaining as much as she was speaking her mind. It was great.

To me, her thoughts about the differences between Québec residents and the rest of Canadians were the best. I even wrote them down on an old receipt in the moment.

“They scream. They’re messy. They’re disorganized,” she said, of the Québeckers. “And so I’m like, I have to move here.”

She and James seemed very much in love, and their kindness both to each other and to me was a sweet hearth to hover by for a few days. We learned all about each other and ate dinner together each of the four nights I was there. On the last evening, in an effort to show my appreciation, I baked a key lime pie, and thankfully it went over well. As James ate, he praised it with a string of delighted expletives, and somehow, those were some of the best compliments I have received about my baking in ages. I was in an ephemeral bubble of positivity and support, and damn, I felt lucky.

Diana and James, looking at pictures of us in 3-D glasses. I promise to upload them as soon as Diana sends them to me.

Diana and James, looking at pictures of us in 3-D glasses. I promise to upload them as soon as Diana sends them to me.

And I loved that politically incorrect field trip, to boot. Although it took us about half an hour to find him that Tuesday, eventually Diana and I came across a small, dark boy dressed in white with a red vest and hat. He was standing on someone’s porch, and he was leaning forward, his arm outstretched and fist clenched, as though he should be holding a horse’s reins. I snuck onto the stranger’s front lawn to get a shot, but my distance and the afternoon light made the picture mostly a bust. Too bad, as that would have been a great image to have, despite the lengthy disclaimer I would have had to issue each time I showed it to anyone.

The day I left Diana and James, I knew it was time. I liked being there, in the very green, lightly European countryside, but the push to be somewhere new had fire to it. Not to mention that the fear of overstaying my welcome is always in me.

Chosen consciously or not, it took me almost all of Tuesday to get out of there. There were articles to be written and hikes to take, and by the time my truck was hooked to my trailer, it was late afternoon. James was at work, and so Diana and I did our goodbyes with just the two of us. We hugged and walked away from each other and shouted back and fourth the kind of things you say when you’re parting with someone you like. It was something to the effect of “Thank you so much for everything” and “I’ll definitely write” and “Thanks for showing me the black man.”

I stepped into my truck, pulled away, and immediately burst into tears.

I could feel my fragility and vulnerability hit me again as I drove into the unknown. I both hate and love the sense of yanking myself continually out of security, and that mix of emotions was stronger then than it has ever been on this trip. I know that kind of thing is bound to happen a lot as I travel, and in way, I hope I never do get used to it. It’s a reminder of something — something good. Oh, I’m sure I’ll find a word for it sometime soon.


1 comment to Lawn gnomes, country-style

  • James

    I heard your interview on the Naturist Living Show. If I missed it my apologizes, but I didn’t read any comments about your visit to Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park in Ontario. In your interview you mentioned you might visit other nudist resorts around the US. I would like to invite you to Wildwood Resort in Decatur, Texas. Decatur is a few miles north of Fort Worth. We’re blesses in North Texas to have five nudist resorts around. Best of luck in your travels, James

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