Homesick for the 50th Parallel North

Homesick for the 50th Parallel North

I arrived in British Columbia in early autumn after having lived in the tropics and subtropics for a year.

I’d left the UK the previous year and sailed south. I’d been to countless Caribbean islands, lived in the mangrove jungles of Panama and sailed across an ocean.

I hadn’t been home in all that time — and I was starting to miss it.

But not the typical homesickness you might imagine.

I missed the latitude of home and everything that meant.

It’s not just the place, it’s not just you

I’m a 50th parallel plus kinda girl.

Y’know. Fundamentally.

I love to travel and even live below that but, eventually, I need those 50s. They smell different, they look different, they feel different.

I grew up on the 50th parallel and, while I live over three hours away from my childhood home now, I’m still right here on the 50th.

I’m most comfortable between 50°N and 58°N. And that’s what I needed that September as I locked up my boat in Panama (9°N) and headed off to the airport.

Vancouver (49°N) was immediately one of my favourite cities but the moment I drove up to Whistler and went walking through those endless forests — that’s when I was home.

Somewhere on that road between Vancouver and Whistler I’d crossed over into the 50th parallel. And I could feel it.

Home isn’t just one place

I’d been moving every few days or weeks for a year by the time I reached BC. Each place was interesting and beautiful in its own way and it was the first time I’d ever been to the Caribbean and Central America.

And I loved it. I loved the way of life and everything I saw and experienced. I just craved a little Northern Europe, a little 50+. But I couldn’t fly back to the UK. It was too far and besides, I didn’t really have a valid reason.

Just an itch.

So as I sat on the plane north to Canada, I started thinking about those 50s. The mountain pine forests, the fresh air, the cool evenings, the cold water. I was thirsty, I realised. For the north.

Home to me wasn’t a particular house — I didn’t have one — or even a particular town. It was a mixture of things. A culture, a region, a familiarity.

Home was Europe in the broadest sense and it was also my little boat, moored up in the jungle. But really, it was the trees and the plants and the sky of the 50s. That was home.

The forests of our souls

Walking through the forests around Whistler and up to Pemberton was like every walk my mother took me on as a child. Dense pine forests, Douglas firs, redwoods…it was all there. Everything I’d known and touched in the South of England.

The trees in BC were so dense they cut out half the sun, leaving pillars of light beaming through the canopies and highlighting the dry leaf litter blanketing the forest floor.

We walked trail after trail, coming across waterfalls as though we were strolling in South Wales (51°) and looking up to the forested peaks like in Scotland (57°).

I didn’t need to be in the UK I realised. I just needed to be in the 50s.

Landscape is a part of us

Travelling to the Caribbean and spending over a year there was undoubtedly one of the most incredible experiences of my life. But it was always alien. The savage sunshine, the endless white beaches and larger-than-life flowers — I was always a visitor, no matter how long I stayed.

They were islands though, and I’m an islander. It was the only thing that truly made me feel even slightly, temporarily, at home there. But the craving for the north never left and never will.

It’s intriguing how landscape is part of us. I didn’t know it, until I left. There was no view more breathtaking than standing on top of sand dunes in the Atacama, no expanse greater than being in the mid-Atlantic. But, deep down, it’s the north that makes up my being.

Which is funny, because I don’t really like being cold.

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