About twenty-five miles from the town of Kamloops, following a progressively worse road into the hills, is Three Loon Lake. Between Kamloops and Three Loon Lake—which is one of several scattered lakes among the hills—folds of the high land rising and falling away disclose occasional ranch buildings. Some cattle graze and some sheep, domestically incongruous in these hills.
Every time I travel to those hills above Kamloops, both the ones rising and rising and eventually falling away again as you drop into the Nicola Valley and the ones Ethel Wilson was writing about in this passage from Swamp Angel, I’m grateful again that they have found their way into books. Every time we turn off the Coquihalla Highway onto Lac Le Jeune Road, it’s as though my heart opens wide. The lakes, when you come upon them, are cold and austere, fringed with tulé grass, aspens and lodge-pole pines providing shade. We spent four nights in a log cabin near Lac Le Jeune and I almost never took off my jacket. When we drove down for a picnic at Nicola Lake, where we camped for at least 15 summers with our children, it was 10 degrees warmer. These are beautiful landscapes, scented with sagebrush, pine sap (Ponderosas in the lower areas), and southernwood. Ethel and Wallace Wilson stayed at a fishing resort near where we stayed. They fly-fished from a small boat and enjoyed drinks on the porch of their little cabin. Ethel called the place her heart’s desire. I wondered if it might have been one of these?
In my recent novella, The Weight of the Heart, the narrator drives up the Lac Le Jeune Road in search of Ethel Wilson. She has lunch at one of those ranches along the way, following its owner back after he has helped to jump-start her truck:
I followed, past the Jocko Creek Ranch, which surely Ethel Wilson would have known from her trips to Lac Le Jeune. And just beyond, the Two-Bit Ranch, where Pete and Alice raised cattle and Appaloosas. Their sign, marked with their brand, two circles, side by side, overlapping slightly, like the symbol for infinity, hung between two posts over the gate, which was anchored on either side by wooden wagon wheels.
When we drove the road towards Kamloops where we intended to swim in the Thompson River and watch two of our grandchildren play in the park on the river, I kept my eye out for the symbol for infinity, even though I knew the Two-Bit was my own invention. I saw it, though, in the haze of pollen on the long grass by the side of the road, the untidy osprey nest on a dead pine overlooking McConnell Lake, the sight of horses racing up some low hills. I saw it in the cartwheels my grandaughter was turning on the grass by the river and later in the woodsmoke of the fire we were invited to share by a pond while the children roasted marshmallows, their faces sticky and ecstatic.
I took a copy of The Weight of the Heart with me to Lac Le Jeune, intending to release it in the wild for someone to find in a ziplock bag on a stump or a bench near the water. But then as we were exploring the network of roads behind the lake, beyond the cabin where I imagined the Wilsons drinking their late-afternoon cocktail, I saw the most unlikely thing: a Little Free Library on the corner of a road into the woods.
A perfect place to release a book in search of Ethel Wilson’s heart’s desire (and my own), among daisies and willow.