“There was something that I knew as we stopped by the bridge.”

Last Sunday, we drove from Edmonton to Drumheller with our Edmonton family — they were in a second rental car and their route paralleled ours going and returning so that when we got a speeding ticket on the way back, just south of Camrose, they were on a different highway and got their speeding ticket ten minutes later just north of Stettler (even though we’d texted them to tell them to slow down!). Anyway, we arrived at the little miner’s cabin we’d booked and then we decided to drive out to Wayne for lunch. (I sent a postcard from Wayne for those of you who read this blog on a regular basis.)

I love the bridges on Highway 10X. The ones between Rosedale and Wayne are painted an aqua that echoes the sky in certain lights and reminds me of robin eggs, duck eggs, the paint on fading farmhouses from my childhood. I keep thinking about those bridges, the geometry of their construction, the way they focus the way you look at the Rosebud River through them, the way you remember the walk you took with two of your grandchildren from the Last Chance Saloon, Henry confiding that mooses wear antlers (the way we might wear a favourite hat), and Kelly musing about the lights flashing from her sneakers. We were heading to the play area adjacent to the Wayne Community Campground (featuring a horseshoe pit, self-registration, and drinking water) and it seemed, in a moment when the earth tilted, that we were walking back in time, that we might not stop but simply enter the hills and never return.

our bridge

I wrote about the river and its bridges here . It’s become established in my consciousness in the way something does, without bidding, and you dream about it, you smell it (sharp scent of willow buds and muddy water). The bridges and the river I first encountered in 2016 have an added layer now, children talking quietly as we head towards the slides and swings and the opportunity to self-register. It’s cold. We all huddle a little more snugly into our jackets and stick together for warmth. You can’t hear the magpies everywhere in this picture but I’ll never forget them.

9. The Rosebud River, between Home Coulee and the Red Deer River

A Blackfoot word, Akokiniskway, meaning “the river of many roses”.

Stop, I kept saying, stop. It was cold, we’d slept one night in the honeymoon suite at the Rosedeer Hotel in Wayne after an indifferent dinner in the atmospheric Last Chance Saloon. Our room was on the second floor. The third floor was apparently haunted, rooms where Klu Klux Klan thugs hired by the mines had beaten men identified as Communists. Burned them with cigarettes. Tarred them and feathered them and sometimes went too far. Our sleep was uninterrupted by the past. We’d risen, shivered our way to the cold car, and we left before 7 a.m., everything around us silent and crisp with frost, though we’d hiked in shirtsleeves the afternoon before above the townsite to look into old mine shafts, to lean down to prairie crocus, sunlight warm on our arms. Stop,

stop. Because the river had something to tell me. I couldn’t quite hear. Something, something, about miners my grandfather might have known and hardship and what the fallen fenceposts had kept contained. Magpies squabbled in the willows. The wild roses were not in leaf, not yet, but the bushes grew on the banks, promising faint perfume and a profusion of pink blossoms by June.

There was something that I knew as we stopped by the bridge. Air, the light falling over the hoodoos on Highway 10x. Magpies, whose ancestors may have shadowed my grandfather on his way to work, my aunts and uncles on their way to school, their lunch in lard pails. My thumb on the rusting blue of the bridge rasped a few syllables I’d never heard before, a whisper, You could live here. This road could be your route home. Stop.

by our fire, we are reading Dante’s Inferno…


chimneyThe other night—well, it was actually very early morning: around 2 a.m.— I was in my study working on one of the essays in a linked group (one of them has just been published at the Little Toller Books site) and remembered a passage from the Inferno. Luckily I had a copy on my desk, Robert Pinsky’s glorious translation. I found my passage, contemplated it, and read a bit more of the poem I hadn’t really thought much about in years. Yet it is so current in its considerations. The next day we were talking about stuff, the darkness of winter, the indignities of aging, etc. (as one does), and I suddenly said, I think we should read something together. What do you suggest, John asked. The Inferno of Dante, I replied. He blinked. And said, Yes, let’s. So we read the first Canto yesterday, each of us reading a page, then passing the book to the other. Our fire was warm and agreeable. Just now we read the second Canto. It couldn’t be more appropriate to everything we’ve been talking about and thinking about. To what I’ve been writing about in the small hours at my desk with my small desk light allowing me to see the keys of my computer and not much else.

I’m working on a quilt I’ve called A Dark Path and now an essay called the same thing. How good to read a poem that begins,

Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell
About those woods is hard—so tangled and rough…

There aren’t many people you can read the Inferno with, on a January evening, in front of a woodstove fire. Passing the book back and forth, our voices were oddly at ease in the terza rima of a poet born in the 13th century.

O Muses, O genius of art, O memory whose merit

Has inscribed inwardly those things I saw—
Help me fulfill the perfection of your nature.
I commenced: “Poet, take my measure now:

Appraise my powers before you trust me to venture
Through that deep passage where you would be my guide.