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Banff: Escape to the Rugged Beauty of Canada’s First National Park. A traveler finds peace and herself in Alberta’s wilderness.

The maple leaves

It is July 1 in Banff, Alberta, and residents are celebrating Canada Day as the country readies for the big bash in 2017, when Canada marks its 150th anniversary as a nation. The food stalls offer bison jerky and stone-fruit juices and vegetable samosas. Performers are attired in costumes from many lands. Singers belt out a universal message of love and harmony in many tongues.

A stranger hands me a paper Canadian flag and we make our way to the parade route along Banff Avenue. Many of us are from the U.S. or China or India, and we know only two words in the lyrics of the national anthem. But we all gamely chime in with “O Canada” at the right spots.

Canada’s first and arguably best national park

From the red and the white all around me I look up and see blue and green. Banff is no ordinary small town. It sits in the middle of Canada’s first and arguably best national park, 2,500 square miles of Rocky Mountain splendor carpeted with pine and spruce trees and riddled with glaciers bleeding blue into clear lakes—a space big and bold enough to support huge numbers of wildlife, including such so-called megafauna as wolves, elk, cougars, moose, black bears, and grizzlies. A thought strikes me: People are puny; nature is the grand marshal of this parade.

Racing Heart

A few months ago I had an anxiety attack. Racing heart, tight chest, cold hands. My doctor said my cortisol levels were elevated. He prescribed vitamins and supplements to counteract the effects of a limbic hijacking and urged me to “meditate and eat dark chocolate.” So, besides popping chill pills, I’m biting into a Godiva daily and listening to a playlist of nouveau spiritualism by pop sages of the modern age. Had somebody close to me died? Was I experiencing some newly surfaced childhood trauma? Did my husband leave me for his secretary? No, no, and well, yes, but that was 20 years ago. So what was going on? Something embarrassingly trivial: I’m a recent empty-nester trying to write her next chapter.

If that diagnosis is clear, the remedy is not. Our bodies have minds of their own. I felt as if I’d pushed off from one shore and hadn’t quite reached the other. So I escaped, to Canada, like a late-in-life runaway. I’m not unhappy. In fact, I had long anticipated this period after the kids went to college. But I live with a nagging question: What on Earth do I want?

Right now I want to be in Banff. To be outdoors, hike, make new friends, and try to lose the thoughts that cobweb my brain in my suburban home-office outside Washington, D.C. This corner of the Rockies seems to me exactly what my meditation podcasts were telling me to visualize, but here I don’t have to close my eyes. I can open them.

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