Friday, 20 February 2009

Adventure in the openness of things

The end of February hangs like a shelf of snow over the roof. There is a limp promise of destruction as the thermometer bobs a little higher and the underbelly of ice begins to slip. We all hold our breaths in anticipation of the shuddering mess that will signify the opportunity to rebuild, to clean up, to face the day anew.
Last night at the book club we were discussing Doyle’s The Lost World and one of the women in the group shared her longing for such a wild and awesome adventure. But balanced with that longing was a heavy sense of perceived loss, as she thought of how little of the planet has been left unexplored. Immediately my mind unrolled the vista of the Chilcotin grass plains and the sudden descent of the sandy cavernous banks of the Fraser River. I thought of all the places which to me remain raw and beautifully sinister.

The time counts down to my upcoming trip to Canada at the end of April. This time the brave Scottish manboy will join me. It seems as though Billy Connolly has beat us to it however, as his newest travel series, Journey to the Edge of the World, is now playing on ITV over in Britain. It was last summer that Billy swept through Northern Canada, drooping down through British Columbia on the final leg of his trip.
On the way home today I stopped at the bookstore and had a look through the hardback book that has been published to accompany the series. As I propped the book open on a stack of paperbacks that had been crushed into towers on the 3-for-2 table, an old man across from me grimaced at a novel he was holding. “How dare you,” he hissed, seemingly offended by the subject or style. He was obviously mad (mentally and physically shattered, wandering the bookstore to stay out of the rain) but I liked what I decided were his high literary standards.
I skipped through the book to the back, to get to B.C. My mother had told me Billy had visited William’s Lake, and sure enough, there was a snapshot of the rodeo statue that helps to advertise “the puddle’s” cowboy pride. He also went to Horsefly and Quesnel Lake, where he picked up a chainsaw and headed into the bush with some local loggers. He travelled west to one of my favourite places in the world - The Gang Ranch, where he joined in a cattle drive.
Billy fell short of visiting Hun City, the name 100 Mile House has been flagged with in the years since I moved away. Despite this, I am happy that people in Britain will be introduced to some of the landscape and beauty of the Cariboo Chilcotin. It makes me more excited to visit and to let JP sit in the passenger’s seat for once, while I do the driving and show him the locations and landscapes that shaped my youth.
Many places from my childhood remain so magical to me. For most of my life I have had no way to describe the way I feel about these places and occurrences, like the way the Bradley Creek rises and floods the fields each spring, pushing the sweet scent of the willows into the air and drawing the returning geese like a magnet. Or how the language of the leaves changes from spring through to autumn, their chatter imbued with brittle acceptance before the fall. But when I was 22 I read a poem by Estonian poet Jaan Kaplinski that includes the line “Sometimes I see so clearly the openness of things.” Now all my most precious memories live beneath this tender umbrella, held there out of the rain of my adult-onset cynicism.
I hope JP will like Canada. I hope we can try on cowboy hats and eat onion rings at a truck stop. I want to take a picnic out to the Fraser River and make the loop past Ruth Lake, turning just past the Weber’s old place and heading past Hawkin’s toward Canim Lake and back toward Forest Grove. I want to feel my body remember the curve of the roads that I have driven more times than I can recall. I wonder what my love will make of it all. I wonder what I will make of it all, too.


C.S. Perry said...

"Brittle acceptance" and "tender umbrella" have just made my whole day. It makes me happy in deep, secret places to know that there are people left in the world who know how to use language.

norah said...

I like the blend of dry beauty and sinister haunting in your writing about the Cariboo Chilcotin.
Have you read Sheila Watson's novels? Double Hook and Deep Hollow Creek?
Both set in Dog Creek.
And I've been reading about The Chilcotin War of 1884 - did you know about that?
Crazy that we didn't learn about it in high school.

Purest Green said...

C.S- And now my day is made. To know that you are happy in "deep, secret places."

Norah - I have not read Watson's books but will certainly pick them up when I am over there in a couple of months. I have heard of the Chilcotin wars, albeit vaguely, through my time at the paper in Williams Lake. Another good topic which I will have to gather info on. The Chilcotin haunts me. Do you know about Chiwid? Sage Birchwater wrote a book about her. I would like to read your works on the Chilcotin someday.