Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Montreal Trip Part III: In which I conduit my children with amour

Oh, ho! You thought I had posted all my pictures of Montreal, but you were just telling yourself what you wanted to hear. No, and this is not the final installment, either. While Sam was teaching everyday, the boys and I were left to amuse ourselves. We didn't have a car, so we set off to explore the neighborhood on foot. Of course it was breathtakingly beautiful. The houses were all nestled back away from the road among the trees, and you could see the lake peeking through every now and then. And even the roadside flowers were pretty and charming!
After a little ways the gravel road turned to paved road, but it was still quiet and secluded, with hardly any traffic.
One of the things that most surprised me about being in Quebec was how much of a foreign country it was! I had seen the bilingual signs in other parts of Canada, so I expected more of the same, but all the places we went in Quebec didn't bother with English at all, only French. And everyone we met was clearly a native French-speaker, with only bits of English to get along with! And everything just felt…foreign.

I had about three years of French in school (or, as I was saying to someone the other day, the equivalent of about two days in the Missionary Training Center), and I'm not good at ALL anymore, of course, but I did get juuust to the point where I would sometimes dream in French, which felt like a milestone of some sort. So I think the words are still in there inside my brain, somewhere. Well, and of course there are lots of cognates to make it easier (and false cognates: Thierry kept saying we could close our windows at night if the air got "too fresh," by which I think he meant "chilly," because frais has that meaning in French where fresh in English doesn't. Thierry's English is so impeccable that that was the only shade of meaning he missed all week!). So I very much enjoyed trying to read all the signs we saw.

Signs were the perfect level of difficulty for me because they are usually very simple and usually accompanied by explanatory pictures. For example, I saw a picture of a girl wearing a bandaid that said some brand name and then "Bon pour les bo-bos!" Good for boo-boos. Right? :) The other thing that was a good level of difficulty for me was talking to Thierry's 18-month-old niece. I managed holding the toy phone and saying "Allô?" quite nicely. And when we went to the grocery store I was just so delighted with the ways things were phrased. I'm sure I was very annoying as I kept triumphantly reading things out to Sam ("Notre pain est fait maison! Our bread is made in the house, or…in-house! Haha!"). The thing I really lack, in reading French, is knowledge of idioms and parts of speech and so forth: like when I see a sign saying "l'explorateur," I don't know if it means "The Explorer" or "Explore!" or "Exploration" or what. But I am getting off-track here…where was I? Signs! Even the boys could figure out the "Arrêt" signs, but I was particularly taken with this sign by the side of the road:
You don't really have to know French to translate that. "Pay attention to (or watch?) your children." But then my favorite part is the kind of passive-agressively scolding reminder (in friendly cursive script!): Conduct them with love! I don't really know if it means "conduct," exactly, but don't tell me if it doesn't, because I just love it so much. It brings up this image of a conscientious mother carefully ushering her children along, sending out heart-beams from her maternal bosom, "conducting" them into the safest parts of the road by holding their hands—but gently and with love, always with love; heaven forbid she should yank them by the hand when they dawdle, or snap at them "Get over to the side; do you want to get hit by a car?" Well! We had been just carelessly walking along any old way, as you saw in the picture above, but upon seeing this sign I gathered my children close and conducted them (with love) as a mother ought. You can see Seb's response. :)

We kept seeing signs marked "Beauréal" (which I was trying to translate like "Boreal forest" in my mind and it didn't really make sense, but later I found out it's just someone's name) and Réserve Naturelle, which seemed straightforward enough, and then there was a sign that said Jeux dans les arbres (Play in the trees? Games in the trees?) and pictures like this:
Okay. So a viewpoint, hiking, picnic tables, and…??? Jeux dans les arbres, apparently.
Then we walked up the hill and…of course! 
It was a really cool sort of obstacle/ropes course in the trees. Such a beautiful setting, and so unexpected just to come upon it like that! There was a list of rules ("Ne saute pas!") which I read to the boys in my Frenchest accent, and after watching them play for awhile I set off to explore the hiking trails a bit.
There were several trails labeled like this (another was Méditatif, or something like that) and then some that weren't labeled, and up at the top of a small hill there was an overlook where you could see out over the beautiful green valley.
It was kind of drizzly, that super-fine misty rain that reminds me of London, and we hardly felt we were getting wet—until after a couple hours it suddenly it started pouring and then we were immediately soaked. We stayed under the trees for awhile and then headed back to try and dry off (though there was really no point in going home to change, as I had nothing to change into due to the lost suitcase). But we were so pleased with our discovery of this place that we went back again a couple other days, and with Sam once, and explored it a little further each time.
Out in the woods I saw the tiiiiiiniest little frog hopping around. I like frogs in general but this guy was the cutest! It's hard to even tell how small he was, but for scale, those are oak leaves he's sitting on…not even very big oak leaves. You want to see him closer, don't you? Okay:
The one bad thing about the gorgeous cool air of the forest was that there were mosquitos everywhere! They were driving us crazy, but as I said to Sebby, "Our mosquito bites will be gone in a week, but we will have our good memories of hiking here forever!" (Except that I've now preserved the memories of the mosquitos forever too, so…) Thierry told us, "I just think the mosquitos won't bite me, and then they don't." We tried it, but it didn't work for us (perhaps the French-Canadian mosquitos particularly like American blood). Still, we loved wandering around in the woods and feeling the spongy moss under our feet and seeing the dappled sunshine filter through the trees. It was just lovely.
And we found all kind of interesting fungi! Perfect little toadstools like you'd see in a book about fairies or elves, and huge accordion-pleated umbrella mushrooms, and delicate little silverish bell-shaped mushrooms. So cool.
There was a zipline at the end of the ropes course, which the boys loved, of course.
Look at those clouds. The weather seemed to move so fast here! I'm not sure why, but it was the same by the lake: the clouds just raced by even though it didn't seem windy, and you'd look way down the horizon and think "hmm, looks like rain tonight"—and then five minutes later it would be right on top of you. I loved the constant movement and changeability of the sky.
We felt like this was "our" special place since we found it ourselves and we didn't run into any other people there, and looking back at the pictures I feel almost homesick for it. It was such a beautiful area. Can you imagine living there all the time??

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