“Like the symbol for infinity.”

In other Junes, we’ve taken road trips, driving through our favourite landscapes. Windows open, music, stops to look at wildflowers. I feel restless this morning, remembering, but somehow I don’t feel brave enough to leave home. Not yet.

Looking back, I remember the Bridesville-Rock Creek road, how we turned off Highway 3 in 2013 on our way to Grand Forks and meandered through soft grasslands, sweet-scented pines, bluebirds on the fenceposts, and everywhere sticky geranium, upland larkspur, old man’s whiskers. We stopped to watch yellow-headed blackbirds in a small marsh and when this ranch appeared in the distance, I lost my heart.

In my new novella, The Weight of the Heart, the main character encounters a couple who have a ranch near Lac Le Jeune. I had in mind a particular place, though in my imagination it’s further from the road than it is in real life. This part of it is what I remember very vividly:

jocko creek horses

And in my book? I think there’s an intimation that it doesn’t really exist, that perhaps Izzy dreamed it:

He turned his truck and went up over the hill and I followed, followed the road Maggie must have driven with Joey or the Gunnarsons. There were pines, more of the bull pines in the distance, and a shimmer of lakes just off the road. A few weather-beaten cabins back in the trees, some of them pole frames and shingles returning to earth as moss and needle duff. The very cabins were as trees in the forest. 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.

Like the symbol for infinity. This morning, that’s how these places feel to me. I haven’t been back to the Bridesville-Rock Creek Road since the serious fires of 2015 and 2017. If we could pack the car today and head out, Emmylou Harris on the stereo, is that where I’d want to go? Maybe not. I do know we’ve talked about our favourite stretch of Highway 99, between Lillooet and Pavilion, stopping at the Fountain Flat store to fill our coffee mugs, and stopping along the shoulder of the road to look down at the Fraser River below.

above the fraser

Instead, I’ll prepare copies of my book to send to my children and a few far-flung friends and put a few of the keepsakes John printed into envelopes for others who’ve bought The Weight of the Heart. (If you’ve bought a copy, let me know and I’ll send you a keepsake!) In other Junes, we’ve taken road trips. This year we shelter in place, our memories vivid with rivers, wildflowers on the Bridesville-Rock Creek Road, and the sound of yellow-headed blackbirds on a small hidden marsh. Like the symbol for infinity, they too are anchored, turning a little in the wind.

“I grieve for the bend in the road and beyond”

There are places you pass through on travels and you dream of them ever after. Two years ago John and I were ambling through Boundary country in the southern Interior of B.C. and saw, on our map, a road meandering off the main highway and rejoining it further east. The Rock Creek-Bridesville Road — though we took it backwards, so to speak, leaving Highway 3 (the Crowsnest Highway) at Bridesville and driving the most magical route through pine forests, along soft gravel, through grassy meadows, past several peaceful farms where deer grazed among cattle and bluebirds sat on fenceposts watching us as we tried to take their portraits. There were wildflowers in glorious bloom, a young bobcat crossing the road in front of us, yellowheaded blackbirds calling across a marsh, and a sense that here was paradise.

Last week terrible wildfires swept through this area. I’m not sure if this particular road was affected — I’ve looked online, trying to find precise maps —  but many homes were burned in the Rock Creek area, campsites were evacuated at a moment’s notice, the highway was closed, and the news was full of stories of people setting their animals free before they had to flee their farms.

kins corner ranch

I think of that beautiful landscape, the Kettle River running through it, the ranches anchored by history and long occupation, the birds, dense stands of fir and pine, and everywhere the meadows, the scent of wildflowers. I hope for the best for all the people who lived there, many of them able now to return to find what was left of home after days in temporary shelters, fed by the people of Midway and Kelowna and other communities which opened their doors, and I remember a poem, not about this place exactly (you’ll note the references to ocean), but about how such landscapes enter memory and come to us unprovoked, in dreams:

A Bend in the Road

In a dream, a road leads to my new life.

I am riding a horse. Around the far bend

is a bay and by that, a house. I am planning

for food, a garden, an occupation.

My family has never occurred.

The ditches are bright with poppies and hawkweed.

I am thinking I have been here before,

in a dream, or not, but long ago, I remember

the fields of daffodils swept back

from the road in sunlight, the horse’s sweat

and the swish of its tail.

What I don’t know is the house.

There are visible boats, a pier,

the sweet smell of tar. When I wake

to find my children in my bed, a guest

in the downstairs room, blue cups on the counters,

no water in sight, the black horse dead

all these years, I grieve for the bend

in the road and beyond.

–from I Thought I Could See Africa (High Ground Press, 1991)