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T. Sher Singh Headshot

The Turning of The Leaves:
Happy Thanksgiving, Canada

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It was mere small talk, as I waited in line for my obligatory coffee of the morning.

"I love this time of the year," I overheard a woman gush to her companion, "the change of seasons is so glorious!"

"Yes, me too!" responded the other. "And I just can't wait for winter. It's been too long since the snow."

The two nodded at each other knowingly, as if they were privy to some secret.

The exchange left me puzzled, though.

I mulled over their words, as I savoured the coffee and the accompanying sour-cream-glazed donut ... the latter part I confess on the clear understanding that you will not say a word to my doctor or my daughter!

Their words had intrigued me because that's not the usual fare you get in everyday Canadian water-cooler banter.

It's always about how short the summers are and how long the winters, of how quickly one goes and the other arrives at your door.

Then, there's the culture of guilt which comes with being Canadian. If the day's been warm and sunny, it is inevitable that we'll have to pay for it -- a rainy day is in the offing, for sure. If the summer's been a good one - like this past one has -- you can bet a dozen donuts that winter will be early, and a bad and long one at that.

Canadians will tell you with authority that there's someone up there -- if not in Ottawa -- who keeps tabs on these things and keeps an eye on the yin and yang of our weather.

I have even heard myself say it in the elevator: "Yup, we'll be paying for it for sure!" Everyone nods, knowingly.

If nothing else, it's a special bond between all who populate this land, the new and the old. It crosses all divides, it dissolves all differences for those few, precious seconds before the elevator doors close behind you. Even between those ever-at-war ethnics - the English and the French, of course - who just won't leave their troubles behind where they originally came from!

It didn't take me long though -- only the time it took to drain my cup -- before it hit me that the whining and complaining we do is a mere fa├žade, and that we actually like our ever-changing seasons. Including our notorious winters.

I acknowledge to myself grudgingly that I've always loved our winters here. It began more than four decades ago with a big freeze in Thunder Bay in Northern Ontario. After all, the day I had left Patna, my only home until then, for Canada, the mercury was well into the 50s -- Celsius, that is, not Fahrenheit! -- and June's only-mad-dogs-and-Englishmen looh was in full blast.

All I had to do was think of Patna summers, and the pain of an icy winter would melt away in a jiffy.

And then, progressively, as I have fled the big city and put as much distance as I can between pretensions to "world class" and the simplicities of rural Canada, the change of seasons has taken on increasing meaning and relevance.

But when I moved to Mount Forest almost four years ago, I began to discover a whole new world as well.

Living here, seemingly in the midst of nowhere, I am learning things -- about myself and the world around me -- that have to date remained as impregnable as quantum physics.

So. On this Thanksgiving weekend, the 43rd since we hop-step-and-jumped across the big pond, I have sat down to do an inventory of the blessings I now enjoy in my new lifestyle.

I know, and I can feel it in my bones, that the last four years have indeed left me changed. The world looks different, things mean something else now, the daily comings and goings of life carry an altogether new import.

I can't pin-point it to just one thing, a specific sunrise or sunset or an ah-ha! moment. It's been a slow-cooker process. Every time you peek into the pot, it looks no different, and yet, at the end of the day, voila! - the final dish is something quite different from what you began with, and lord, it tastes wonderful!

I now realize, for example, that I am more cognizant of the little changes that go on all around me all the time.

In my daily and weekly routine with the plants around the house, I am aware of every new bud, each new leaf, the moment it opens its eyes. No, I haven't got to talking or singing to them yet, but I do notice now - for the first time in my life - that there is a daily change in them.

The tendrils have moved across the air, as much as a foot or two away. Some of the leaves are looking the other way. A branch has taken a new direction. One plant is thirsty, always thirsty. Another one is totally content, always content, and happy to be left alone.

Outside, in the front lawn, I have learnt that things take time.

The small, insignificant shrubs planted three springs and autumns ago, I remember, struggled at first, then withered, and then died ... or, at least, seemed to! And then, come spring, they broke though the ground, gasping for air. Day by day, week by week, season by season, they've grown taller and fatter.

And now, having blossomed through the spring, summer and fall, almost four times over, they're ready to hibernate again.

No, I haven't turned gardener. All I do is potter around ineffectively. Things around me grow despite me, not because of me.

I have learnt that it is not a high-speed 60-minute extravaganza. It's a slow but perennial spectacle, changing with the day's light, or the mood of the heavens.

I have learnt to love the weather no matter what it is every day.

The sun, I know now, will send the plants dancing. The rain will burst them into laughter. The wind will preen them. Cloudy days are intermissions for rest and growth. Storms are like Friday night parties: there'll be a lot of revelry, but inevitably followed by a few heartbreaks.

I have learnt to look forward to sunny days and rainy ones, cloudy days and windy ones, even storms and blizzards, because each brings its own drama ... right outside my window.

And, I have learnt to look forward to each new season.

I want the winter to hurry -- not just because of the serene purity its brings to the land but because I now know that the plants outside need the moisture down deep under. And I know that until the winter has come and gone, there will be no spring.

And I have learnt that come spring and summer, each plant will be bigger and taller and wider and bushier. Just can't wait to see them in their new roles, not unlike waiting for my daughter, Gehna, to do new things as the years go by.

I have learnt that each four season cycle brings back Vaisakhi and Easter -- both a reminder of death and resurrection, of growth and renewal.

I have learnt that the seeds I plant this week will bear fruit six months later in the Spring. If I don't, then it won't...it's a simple quid pro quo, a give and take.

I have learnt that you can't rush things. Each needs time, it's own time. One need only do one's bit, one's best, and then one stands back...and things take their own course.

This Thanksgiving too I am reminded that I have learnt a bit about karam since moving here, and a bit more about hukam. And sehaj. From the wonderful drama -- the bacchitar naatak -- that constantly unfolds around me, hour to hour.

Bit by bit, slowly, very slowly, grain by grain, digit by digit, byte by byte, I am learning to lose sight of myself ... and see the bigger picture.

It's Thanksgiving. The leaves are turning.

And so am I.

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada -- Monday, October 14.