My conference friends are used to eating with me in restaurants or talking late at night in a bar. They walk with me through art museums or snatch a bit of conversation in between sessions. We talk while clustered around tables full of white china coffee mugs and big urns of coffee – or smaller tables filled with cheese and crackers, cut-up fruit and tiny little plates that are impossible to balance food on. Always we meet in the lobby of a hotel, and many of our conversations have taken place there amidst a swirl of travelers and their luggage while we are waiting for more colleagues to join us.
It's wonderful when a conference friend comes to my hometown, to the place where I was born and have lived my whole life. It doesn't happen very often, since Snowstorm City is not exactly a cultural hotspot. Usually the conference friend has to make a special effort to make Snowstorm City part of a travel plan, like the time Artist Friend drove ten hours to get here to pick me up and take me to a conference six hours away. (Well, the conference should have been only six hours away, but then we stopped at a country stand to buy fresh fruit and then at a small town to watch part of a softball game and then at Famous Pond where the weather was so nice we had to take a long walk, which ended with me leaping into the water to try to save a duck that had fishing twine wrapped around its beak.)
Last week, two of my oldest conference friends came to town for a few days. I met Wild Hair and Peace-Loving Feminist twelve years ago, at my very first FourSeas Conference. At conferences, Wild Hair and I traditionally take an afternoon off to eat lunch together and explore an art museum, always going first to the Asian section, which he especially loves. Peace-Loving Feminist was the woman who first encouraged me to belly dance. At Creative Writing workshops, she is known for leading the group in movement practices that help integrate mind and body.
I've often told them both about Pretty Colour Lakes, a park I’ve gone to since before I was born. My mother walked around the lakes when she was pregnant with me; my father swam in these lakes when he was a boy in the 1930s. So it was wonderful to bring Wild Hair and Peace-Loving Feminist, and their dog Beagle, whom I was meeting for the very first time, for a leisurely walk around the lakes. We stopped at a bench where I've sat many, many times, and enjoyed a picnic lunch, while I rattled on and on about how special the lake is, quoting limnology professors, botanists, local historians, and my Dad. They admired the lakes, the unusual blue green colour of the water, the peaceful wooded trails, the scent of the cedar trees. And I spent time admiring Beagle, her floppy ears, her colouring, and her pleading eyes. Spring sunshine, sandwiches on fresh rolls, and great conversation made it a wonderful afternoon. Always it's nice to share the places we love.