Notes from the past: from a work-in-progress
I’ve been in the past, and in the Interior, for the last week, working away on a novella. I’ve posted little snippets here before. This comes from about the middle-point of the narrative, when the main character recalls a road-trip with her brother in the mid-1970s. I didn’t have a date to begin with but then as phrases of songs began to sing their way into the novella, I realized that it had to be after 1975 when Joan Baez first released “Diamonds and Rust”. (Another song, Emmylou Harris’s “Boulder to Birmingham”, was also released that year, and it echoes through the first part of the book.) As for the other sacred texts that form what I think of as calls and responses in the novella, they range from Hetty Dorval (1947), Swamp Angel (1954), The Double Hook (1959), to the much older Egyptian funerary texts — The Book of the Dead and The Books of Breathing. Is this too much literary weight for a small story to carry? Time will tell, as it always does. Here’s a photograph of the road to Pavilion so you can imagine the wind, the grass, the prospect of horses.
from The Marriage of Rivers, a work-in-progress….
Once we were driving to a wedding in Clinton – a guy James went to university with was marrying the daughter of a local rancher – and we’d taken the Duffy Lake Road, through Lillooet, then to Pavilion where we stopped for ice-cream. Our plan had been to continue on 99 until it met 97 at the Hat Creek Ranch north of Cache Creek. We were looking forward to taking some photographs at Marble Canyon. A Shuswap guy James knew said that the high white pinnacle everyone called Chimney Rock was really Coyote’s Penis and James couldn’t resist. –I’ll have postcards made, he said. While we were leaning on one of the poles holding up the roof overhanging the entrance to the store, James suddenly said, I’ve changed my mind. Forget Marble Canyon and that penis. Let’s drive up over the mountain and go past Kelly Lake. Remember the time Dad took us camping there and all he wanted to do with fish until finally Mum said she was on strike so we had slices of bread with ham and nothing else and we thought it was a feast?
Did I remember? I’ve never forgotten how we camped on what I thought was the most beautiful lake in the world and how good those ham sandwiches were. We dipped our tin cups into the lake and drank its mineral water. And how we drove back to the coast with our windows open as we came down off Pavilion Mountain, down the crazy road (“Count the switchbacks, kids, and the one’s who’s right gets ice-cream at the store.” Then, “Who got 8? All of you? (None of us even knew what a switchback was or when we were on one.) That’s ice-cream all around!”).
–Have you got the map?
–We don’t need a map, James. It’s that road there – look, you can see the switchbacks from here. Remember when we didn’t even know what a switchback was?
We always argued about maps. James liked them to be folded just so and he liked to know distances. –How far, how far? And I’d try to estimate by using the scale but it was easier to wing it. –Oh, as far as Vancouver to Hope. Or, about the same as Kamloops to Salmon Arm.
I decided it was more about gender than temperament. I knew how to find our way by landmarks. It was hard to explain but I felt them more than I saw them. I knew how it felt in my body to drive up and get out of the car at what our father had called Carson’s Kingdom, explaining to us that a man called Carson had acquired the land in 1866 and his family had owned it until Colonel Spencer bought it in the 1940s, bought a few ranches both up the mountains and down in the valleys and on the lower benches. Spencer like the department store on Government Street, he reminded us; the store where our mother took us for back-to-school clothing, preferring it to other stores because of the quality and because she knew, slightly, a painter who lived out on Ardmore Drive, also a Spencer. Same family. We all got out of the car to watch how he opened the gate across the road while some cattle watched and we walked along a bit while he drove through, then closed the gate again. Country etiquette, he told us. So we were taking that same route, but backwards; we were driving up Pavilion Mountain rather than down and we were heading north to Kelly Lake, then east to Clinton. But my body felt the road’s contours, the rich feathery growth of the pines, the tickle of those soft grasses. I could relate these things to a map but I didn’t use the map to see how to get from one place to another. I used it as a literary text of its own. I used it to remind me how my body responded to the hills, the low-lying lakes to one of the road, the sight of a hawk gliding along the shoulder, another on a fencepost, and wind, sunlight on my arm resting on the car-door. My shoulders ached for the dry air, a few ripe Saskatoon berries in my palm. That was my map.
Roads went from this to that. But the hill led up to the pines and on to the rock rise which flattened out and fell off to nowhere on the other side. (DH, 33)
Up and up, the grass waving, the finished heads of balsamroot rustling. Crack me a beer, my brother requested, and I did, taking a long pull myself before handing him the bottle. When James was too involved with his beer and keeping us from leaving the edge of the road (the long fall to the far green valley), I let the map drop from the window on my side of the car to the ground where it floated away. Later, I thought, later I could explain that I would never forget a single contour of this landscape, not a single blade of grass, not a square inch of the blue sky above; my body was the map with its wild topography, its legends of distance and scale. In my throat, the bitter taste of hops. Speaking strictly for me, we both could have died then and there.