I was walking downtown yesterday, with my feet following all the familiar streets and paths, and the air was close and heavy. We’d had a series of thunderstorms and the humidity was sticking to my back, and my neck, and the creases of my knees and elbows. And generally, I’d hate this, because summer in Toronto is trying. You get tired of the sooty, dirty humidity. You get tired of sweating the minute you step outside.
But I realized that I wouldn’t give it up – not really. Water’s in my blood.
Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve lived near the water. My father’s job as a marine engineer for the Canadian Coast Guard demanded it. And I got used to rising every morning, the slight swampy smell of freshwater or the sharp salty tang of the ocean, tickling my nose as I went about my day. I’d walk by the water on my way home from school and watch the icebergs rub against each other in the winter, or the strong north wind pulling the waves harshly into the sand. I’d go down to the harbour with friends and poke at jellyfish on the shore, play with the crabs in the rocky sand, or try to find seashells or “skipping rocks”.
I learned to skip rocks when I was ten, but I still can’t do it well. I try every time, though. Something about the flick of the wrist.
I can’t imagine not wading in freezing-cold Lake Huron in early spring. I can’t imagine what it would be like not to grow up watching the freighters steam over the glass-like surface of the water. And so I welcome the humidity here because it means I’m close to the water. And it’s an intimate, comfortable feeling.
I love Graham Colton‘s song, “Pacific Coast Eyes”. It’s about a California girl, which I am definitely not, but I’m drawn to it. I only had the pleasure of living by the Pacific Ocean for three years, but they were three beautiful years. The unique and gentle fog. The breezes that ranged from harsh to barely there. And the ever-changing blue and grey. I loved living there. I loved having the water close by. And the air had no humidity at all – a very welcome change for this Ontario-born-and-bred girl.
Toronto has a harbourfront. It’s a favourite pastime of mine to go down there and watch the yachts dock, or the tall ships sail majestically past the Islands. It’s not the same as my childhood lake, Lake Huron. There, there’s a certain bubble of relaxation that I long for every summer. When the humidity returns, I long to wade out as far as I can, past the rusted-iron piers, past the carefully-maintained beaches, out into the silky waves until all I can feel is cool.
It’s the only thing I can’t do here. It’s the only thing I think would make the trying long summers in Toronto bearable.
But the humidity – the water in the air. It’s hard because you have to do one thing at a time. You have to walk a little more slowly. You have to take deeper, slower breaths. Things are not possible in high humidity the way they are on cooler days. You’re going to sweat and you’re going to feel the tendrils of your hair stick to your neck. You can’t wear glasses unless you want them to slip down your nose.
But humidity means Southern Ontario. It means I’m close to the water. It means colours in the sky, deep pinks and yellows and deliberate sunset swirls. It means that the summer is going to be long, but there’s a certain cheerfulness, a certain relaxation, a certain slowness, even in this city that never sleeps and never stops.
Humidity means I’m home.