Pincher Creek, Canada 23 Jul 05
Odometer 6,817 m 10,971 km

With the needle on my compass bearing south, I dance along the great divide between British Columbia and Alberta working my way towards the Lower 48. Here, the Rocky Mountains are not as tall as they are in Colorado, but they are much more imposing, since they rise from lower elevation and survive winter at higher latitude. By and large the roads follow the paths of least resistance, along the watersheds of the legendary Yukon, Mackenzie and Fraser rivers. I join their race to the sea, happy to carve through their millennial incisions in this otherwise vertical landscape.

During the course of my journey through western Canada I’ve been struck by the subtle differences between our two cultures. Although many Americans mistakenly view our neighbor to the north as a kind of fifty-first-state-in-waiting, nothing could be further from the truth. Canadians are proud and fiercely independent, in spite of being geographically isolated by the world’s only superpower on
two sides.
Polite. That is the word that best describes their culture. Nearly everyone goes to extraordinary lengths to simply be nice. For example, while in downtown Edmonton during rush-hour, Alberta’s capital city, I found myself faced with having to cross four lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic from a blind alley. Thinking I’d never successfully run the gauntlet, I was amazed when everyone simply stopped and allowed me to cut across. No horns. No obscene gestures. No road rage.

In another incident while grocery shopping, the checker emphatically motioned his eyebrows towards the register’s monitor and said, “You don’t
really want to buy those cherries do you?” Twelve dollars for a tiny bag? Maybe not.

This civility leads to less need for law enforcement; I’ve seen only two Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the course of thousands of miles, both simply responding to accidents. And speeders? They’re kept in check by an occasional cardboard-cop, a life-size replica of a Mountie cruiser “parked” along side the roadway, and signs admonishing, “All those who hate speeding tickets... raise your right foot!”
cardboard cop
Perhaps a sense of humor is requisite to endure the brutal northern winters. In America, bumper stickers proclaim “I’d rather be skiing,” “boating” or “fishing;” Canadians simply crack, “I’d rather be snow shoveling.” Indeed, the nation’s dollar coins are dubbed Loonies, ostensibly for the loon adorning their face, but the double-entendre is lost on no one.

Still not convinced? Well, the ultimate proof of their congenial disposition may be on display at the Yukon Visitor Information Centre. There, a short video offers advice for coping with a bear attack:
If a bear catches you--and begins to eat you--you might consider fighting back.
Might consider?

Now, surely we’d all be better off in a world with less impatience and hostility. And to that end, we would do well to learn from our northern neighbors’ good nature. But at the risk of sounding impolite, I've got to believe we can become better human beings without first feeding ourselves to the bears, eh?

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