“Letters never arrive.” (Du Fu)

house by Anarchist Mountain

Yesterday morning, we woke in Grand Forks in what was the worst motel room I’ve ever slept in. (Long story in which the unhappy ending was because of delays due to tire problems in Radium Hot Springs so that by the time we arrived in Grand Forks, the better places were full.) Let’s just go, we said to each other, packing up quickly, so that we were back on the highway at 5:20 a.m. No coffee.

It was too much to hope that the Copper Eagle bakery and cafe in Greenwood would be open so early but at 3 minutes to 6, we were driving slowly on the town’s main street and what was that, a sign on the sidewalk in front of the bakery and an open sign on the door? It was still dark outside but inside the place was warm, the scent of something delicious in the air, and golden oldies playing on the sound system.

copper eagle

Fresh hot muffins, delicious espresso for me, rich French roast for John, and the morning breaking over the beautiful old buildings of Greenwood, one of our favourite small towns. (It has an excellent museum and I hold the thought that my grandfather shows up on the census in the ghost town of nearby Phoenix in 1911 and may have known Greenwood, maybe have told someone of his experiences though the one post card he received there was not from home, not about hopes and dreams, but a reminder that he owned someone money.)

I love the Boundary country. We’ve driven through it in all weathers, most memorably this time. And there’s a section in my book, Mnemonic: A Book of Trees, about the drive over Phoenix Mountain in search of my grandfather. I love the Kettle River as it winds alongside the highway, then falls away, appearing later in Midway and Rock Creek. We saw the school bus stopping for children along the way, parents waving goodbye from gravel roads leading back up into the soft hills. Horses grazed in golden grass, a man in faded blue overalls pulled fence-wire tight while a dog waited patiently beside him.

The blurry photograph at the top of this post is the Lawless farmhouse at Anarchist Mountain, one of those places that you see over time and realize forms part of your own personal landscape, your archive of beloved places. Could I drive through Boundary country without thinking about it, imagining its past occupants, a woman making the harvest lunches for the workers taking hay from the fields, a dog waiting for children to return from school, hawks gliding over the draws in search of marmots or mice? I dreamed of the house last night, what might have happened that no one remains, its history our history somehow. This morning, thinking about its roof, its porch, I watched this beautiful video and was able to enter the rooms, smell the tamarack beams, hear very faintly the voices of generations of families who called this home–this house, this soft landscape, the air shimmering with the passing of time.

Warning drums have ended all travel.
A lone goose cries across autumn

borderlands. White Dew begins tonight,
this bright moon bright there, over

my old village. My scattered brothers—
and no home to ask Are they alive or dead?

Letters never arrive. War comes
and goes— then comes like this again.

                       –Du Fu, trans. David Hinton

2 thoughts on ““Letters never arrive.” (Du Fu)”

  1. I appreciate your road trip recollections. Remind me of my student days in Calgary when we had the use of a Land Rover and could explore the more remote and rough roads in the Rockies, Prairies and south to the Crow’s Nest.
    Love the photo of the house. It has an impressionistic quality to it suggestive of both resilience and vulnerability. Makes one wonder who lived there, what did they do, why was it abandoned, will it be there next time?
    Also I can relate to the motel from hell (several on the outskirts of Toronto) and the rejuvenation at a break of day coffee shop (good one in Canmore).

    1. We came through Canmore the other day, John, and I kept thinking how much it has changed from, oh, 40 years ago. Or more. The old buildings downtown and then miles of condos, everything suggestive of skiing and mountains. Appropriately, I guess, but we’d come along the old Bow Valley Trail, with hardly any traffic, and I was feeling the old travel vibes! My husband’s family used to go to the mountains every summer from the time they arrived in Canada (Calgary) in 1953 until much later, driving headlong from Winnipeg. His parents were houseparents in youth hostels so he has a lot of history in the Rockies. I thought how beautiful the mountains were as we approached from Ghost Lake, so clear and, well, bare. Not a glacier to be seen any more. And therein lies a story…

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