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ON THE HILL IN
BY THE RIVER UP THE MOUNTAINS
ON THE LAKE AROUND
AT THE SKATEPARK
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3852 1ST AVE SMITHERS | 250-847-5388 | LOCALSUPPLYCO.CA 1
Writing Contest Neon celery. American cheese. Camelot. Mardigras gold. Paint swatches are privy to their own special language. It's this language that will inform your entry to the innaugural Northword writing contest. Here's how it works: 1. Choose your paint swatch. Circle the name. 2. Write a storyâ€”fiction or non-fictionâ€”in 750 words or less that includes a link to the name. The connection can be tenuous or direct, as long as there is a connection. 3. Mail your entry, paint swatch, and entry fee of $5 to Northword HQ (1412 Freeland Ave., Smithers, BC, V0J 2N4) no later than July 1st. Please note that entries will not be returned, so unless you're ok with never seeing it again, do keep a copy of your story. Apart from the accolade of your peers, here's what winning gets you: first prize receives $100 and publication in print and on northword.ca; second prize gets a bundle of books and online publication. The shortlist will get a little something fun in the mail and be featured on the website. Please make sure to include your name, mailing address, and email with your entry. Good luck! Please note that by entering this contest, you agree to grant Northword first serial rights for print and non-exclusive electronic rights. All other rights remain with the author, as do all publication rights for those entries not selected.
Our gear, your adventure.
Stop by our Visitor Centre for information on local eateries, shops, cultural attractions and accommodations. You can even borrow a bicycle, fishing rod, life jacket, tackle box, or ice auger all for free! 3
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C A PA C I T Y
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Aam wil bakwsim / We Welcome You 4
DISCOVER British columbiaâ€™s WILD & BEAUTIFUL nOrthwest CoasT Prince Rupert is a vibrant town where nature, history, and personalities are larger than life. Legendary sport fishing, exceptional wildlife viewing, attractions that bring the coastâ€™s ancient aboriginal culture and pioneer heritage alive, and the urban pleasure of good restaurants, fascinating shops, and colourful neighborhoods make Prince Rupert the ideal choice for a family vacation, a corporate retreat, or a solo getaway.
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PUBLISHER/EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Matt J. Simmons NATIONAL SALES/AD DESIGN Sandra Smith CONTRIBUTING EDITOR Amanda Follett Hosgood ILLUSTRATORS Facundo Gastiazoro & Hans Saefkow CONTRIBUTORS Darran Anderson, Jo Boxwell, Taylor Burk, Marty Clemens, Joseph Crawford, Facundo Gastiazoro, Emily McGiffin, Tania Millen, Dave Quinn, Melissa Sawatsky, Conrad Thiessen, Mark Tworow, Patrick Williston, Wade Wilson ADVERTISING SALES Sandra Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org Matt J. Simmons, email@example.com CONTRIBUTIONS We’re always happy to hear from new writers and photographers who have a unique perspective and a northern story to tell. Have a look at our submissions guidelines on our website, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll send you a copy. ONLINE Find articles past and present, photos, audio, and more at northword.ca and check us out on Facebook & Instagram. THANKS Special thanks to Mark Thibeault for the use of the Lumex “Clearvue” slide viewer featured on page 55.
Legalities and limitations Copyright © 2018. All rights reserved. No part of Northword Magazine, in print or electronic form, may be reproduced without written permission of the publisher. Information about events, products or services provided is not necessarily complete. The publisher is not responsible in whole or in part for any errors or omissions.The views expressed herein are those of the writers and advertisers, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the publisher, staff or management. Northword assumes no liability for improper or negligent business practices by advertisers, nor for any claims or representations contained anywhere in this magazine. In no event shall unsolicited material subject this publication to any claim or fees. Northword welcomes submissions but accepts no responsibility for unsolicited materials. Copyright in letter and other materials sent to the publisher and accepted for publication remains with the author, but the publisher and its licensees may freely reproduce them in print, electronic and other forms.
Editorâ€™s Note The Beginning
by Conrad Thiessen
by Emily McGiffin
On Ancient Ice
by Tania Millen
by Matt J. Simmons
When Surf Starts
by Darran Anderson
by Joseph Crawford
by Jo Boxwell
by Melissa Sawatsky
CONTENTS NORTHWORD 2018 | VOL. 1
Tweedsmuir by Taylor Burk
51 Edge of the World by Dave Quinn
55 The Crawl by Patrick Williston
60 Lemur by Matt J. Simmons
’m there. Before. A speck of cosmic dust sandwiched in singularity. A little piece of nothing. You’re there too. We all are. The swirling mess of non-existence. Everything is recycled. Eventually, and before. It’s boring, but nice too. Like sitting together in the same room, reading quietly. Not actively interacting. I start to say something: “Did you hear that?” You look up from your newspaper, annoyed. And it’s quiet again, for a brief history. And then it happens. A rushing sound. Heat. Radiation. A beginning. No, the Beginning. And we’re all swirled together in sweet chaotic cacophony like some cosmic blender is churning us into the gigantic smoothie of life itself and—bing—the universe is born. Caution: contents may be hot for the first hundred thousand years. Enjoy your existence. Funny how things start. When do things start? With a scream and some blood? Or with a twinkle in the eye? The first step on a long journey? Or the click of a mouse committing to a visa payment for a flight you can’t afford? One step from the cracked concrete and onto the dirt trail and the beginning is already in the past. Or maybe the start to that story came years before, with a little nugget of an idea that has propelled me into the present ever since. In other words, maybe the moments before the beginning are the beginning. That tiny neural transmission when decision happens. Getting to that place where intent becomes solidified can be scary. The pants-wetting terror of perching on the precipice. Because the edge of the world is always present, never mind that we live on a sphere. The unknown, the unforeseeable. What happens next. And it’s here on the edge that dwells endless cliché: take the plunge, carpe diem, just give ‘er. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life. I’ve spent plenty of time on the precipice. The cold rush of air at 10,000 feet above sea level, the tap on my shoulder telling me it’s time to jump. The descent into a valley populated primarily by grizzlies and black flies. The release of the brakes. Decaf or regular. And I still don’t know whether it’s the action or the thought that holds the beginning. The mental or the physical. One thing I do know is when life kicks in for real. It’s at that first shuddering gulp of air. When my youngest son was born last year, he took that first drink of oxygen and let out a yell: I am here. There was no question that he’d begun. Damn, that kid was loud. From that first breath, the little guy was shot from the metaphoric cannon into countless beginnings and innumerable stories—the adventure of simply being alive. And so it starts. 9
One beginning that begs to be addressed is the very thing you’re holding in your hands: Northword’s first annual. Because our frenetic lives are fraught with bite-sized clips and sensationalist tragedies, the allure of slowing down and digesting thoughtful, meaningful literary explorations of, well, anything, is just too enticing to ignore. That’s what this is. News comes and goes; issues that are relevant today are distant in just a few months. We will continue to cover current events this year, and our magazine will still hit the newsstands every two months for years to come. But this is something a little different. One year. A theme. The efforts and creativity of writers, poets, photographers, artists, and illustrators. In a nutshell, that is what you’re holding. Keep it. Take your time with it. Read it more than once. Talk about it. Let it inspire you. And with that, it begins. — Matt J. Simmons 10
illustration by Facundo Gastiazoro
The smell of satisfaction is a roast in the oven words & photos by Conrad Thiessen
I’m not the most dedicated hunter.
I don’t have the newest hunting gear or gadgets. I rarely wear camouflage in public. I only own two guns, one of which I’ve had since I was 12 years old. If you saw me walking down the street you probably wouldn’t guess I’m a hunter. But the truth is, hunting is an integral part of my identity. When I think about it, it’s difficult to say exactly where that identity came from. I imagine it’s different for every hunter. What I do know is the times I have felt most grounded and most alive were while I have been hunting. The majority of those were on trips with my dad, exploring some remote place that had existed as a mysterious name on a map, or better yet somewhere with no name at all. The strongest memories from those times revolve around the difficulties of the trips and our experiencing them together. The kind of “Type II” fun that make good memories, but in the moment have you wondering why you’re even there. Like waking up in the morning and cramming my feet into hiking boots frozen solid from crossing streams the day before. Or horses breaking hobbles and running 40 km back to the truck. Black flies swarming and harassing us while our arms are elbow-deep inside a moose. Sitting under a leaky tarp in the rain for days on end. Somehow, through all of that my connection with the land and feeling of truly existing was strengthened. And now, in the comfort of my house, when I smell a moose roast cooking in the oven, those moments soak back through me, reminding me who I am.
The author's dad, Ken Thiessen, on Teslin Lake, Yukon Territory
Searching for the true meaning of Canada's future Reconciliation. The word has been in Canadian lexicon for
a few years now, but what does it really mean? What does reconciliation look like in our communities, and how can we all benefit by choosing to reconcile? Formally, reconciliation means reuniting, reunion, harmonization, and restoration of friendly relations. But its definition in the wake of Canada’s residential school system is a slippery one, with as many meanings as there are individuals trying to reconcile their lives. For many non-Indigenous people—myself included—reconciliation isn’t an action that has been fully embraced. Not due to lack of sympathy or empathy for those who experienced residential schools, or the subsequent generations who continue to struggle with effects of horrific acts by individuals and governments that embraced the residential school system. No, at first blush, inaction appears to be a result of the impression that the potential benefits of reconciliation won’t positively impact our lives, so there’s no spark of desire to start. As with many activities that jostle for priority in overly busy lives, to receive the commitment of that commodity called time, reconciliation needs to do some good. Not just for Indigenous people, but for non-Indigenous people, too. Some—and I include myself in this—are simply not altruistic enough to do the hard work of reconciliation if there’s no obvious personal benefit. At a deeper level, this lack of action may be less about apathy and more about a fear of opening a Pandora’s box of shame. Acknowledging the ugly darkness of our country’s history means shattering the idea of inherent Canadian values of justice and equality. And then, it will be ignoble not to act. After six years of hearings and testimony, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission put forward 94 recommendations to address the cultural genocide of Aboriginal peoples through Canada's residential school system. So perhaps it’s not surprising that when faced with reconciliation as a conversation piece, many feel unsettled. In 2015, Phil Fontaine, the former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations said, “One thing that’s pretty obvious, is that Canada was not the country that we thought it was. But it certainly has an opportunity now—a real opportunity—to create the Canada that we all want to see.” For those whose knowledge of First Nations history comes from decades-old gradeschool learning that embraced a cleansed version of history, the Kool-Aid may suddenly seem like blood-tainted water. Repugnant as it is, becoming cognizant of this duplicity in historical teaching is an important first step. Understanding the issues of a conversation that’s writ so large across our communities isn’t easy. Former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn A-in-chut Atleo describes residential school history as a long dark shadow across the country, where light needs to be shone. He also provides guidance. “You are a treaty person, irrespective of 13
photo: marty clemens
words by Tania Millen
photo: marty clemens
where you reside or whether you are of Indigenous heritage. You have also inherited this legacy, this history, and you can also play a part in reconciliation. Education is about learning. Learning promotes and supports healing. Healing relationships in and between Indigenous people, and between Indigenous people and the state, and Indigenous people and Canadians—that’s the work of reconciliation.” What does reconciliation work really look like? Lisa Raven, Executive Director of Returning to Spirit, a non-profit organization that delivers reconciliation workshops across the country, shared her own journey. Raven is Indigenous and grew up in Manitoba, experiencing racism and abuse. “After a while, the blame doesn’t just stay with the Church and residential school,” she says. “Everybody gets painted with that brush.” She describes her own deep biases—assumptions towards herself and non-Indigenous people. “I started to really harden against people who weren’t like me. A lot of it was based on trying to protect myself from being hurt. There was resentment that I wasn’t aware of. I had some big chips on my shoulders. Lots of anger and hurt. Hurt compounded on top of hurt. I lashed out and was angry at people who didn’t deserve it. “I attended a Returning to Spirit workshop,” she continues, “and the first step for me was to feel at peace with my past and what happened to me. That’s where I really got the concept that reconciliation starts with
you. If you’re carrying around all this baggage, you’re not in any space to reconcile with other people.” The true power of reconciliation, Raven explains, is that it’s a conversation, a back-and-forth sharing of who you are, what your life is like, what you’re stuck with, and what’s hurt you. It’s not just about Indigenous people telling their stories, she says. It has to be non-Indigenous people too, speaking about their lives and hurts. “I had this assumption that white people had it all together,” says Raven. “I always thought that they must not deal with sexual abuse or not being loved at home. [Reconciliation] was a really eye-opening experience and allowed me to shed my beliefs that white people are different from me and have everything together, that they are some kind of a monster. I could see them at an equal level. They have hurts too. “There’s a moment where it just smashes all your beliefs. That’s reconciliation.” But it’s not just individuals that need to reconcile, of course. Raven believes that reconciliation can bring families closer together and help communities to work more effectively. In a future where reconciliation is reality, people will listen to opposing points of view and embrace the simplicity of letting go and moving on. There’s a positive ripple effect, but there’s much work to be done. Aligning values and beliefs to achieve community goals, regardless of individual stories, defines reconciliation. In communities that are reconciled, says Raven, social initiatives such as language and cultural connection get great bursts of energy, because that energy isn’t drained by conflict and hurt. Multiply those reconciled communities by thousands, and Canada will be much closer to the country many of us thought it was. Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said, “You don’t have to believe that reconciliation will happen, you have to believe that reconciliation should happen.” Reconciliation is a journey, and it’s not an overnight train. It’s a necessary and worthwhile part of untangling the effects of colonization so we can all live in prosperous harmony. The endgame is uncertain. What a reconciled Canada looks like, and when we’ll actually get there, is history yet to be written. But those who have journeyed to the far shores of the reconciliation process report the positive effects of those travels in their health, relationships, social and work lives. They’ve learned to listen, share and be vulnerable, see others through clear glasses rather than clouded ones, and, best of all, appreciate all that life offers. So with a healthy dose of curiosity, and perhaps a sprinkling of self-reproach at taking so long to venture down this challenging road, may our learning and understanding flourish, and reconciliation begin. 15
“At a deeper level, this lack of action may be less about apathy and more about a fear of opening a Pandora’s box of shame.”
The buildings of the future will keep rearranging themselves One of the great laboratories of the future and its side-effects is
science fiction. “The wall flickered partially out of existence as he stepped through to the corridor,” wrote Arthur C. Clarke in his novel The City and the Stars (1956), “and its polarised molecules resisted his passage like a feeble wind blowing against his face.” Typical of the symbiotic relationship between science fiction and fact, Clarke seems to have got this idea from the physicist Richard Feynman, who in 1945 predicted the possibility of molecular engineering. Feynman argued that any material could one day be constructed from the atom up– and, moreover, that complex miniscule mechanisms (“nanobots”) would become viable, “a billion tiny factories, models of each other, which are manufacturing simultaneously.” It was conceivable not just that concrete, for example, would be strengthened with polymers but that it could come to resemble a living substance, mutating on demand. And then where would that leave architecture? Time passes differently for buildings. Eero Saarinen differentiated 17
image: antonio sant’elia
words by Darran Anderson
image: antonio sant’elia
the “elephant time” of architects from the writer’s “rabbit” time. One of the central tensions of architecture is how the brevity of human life, let alone fashion, collides with the longevity of stone and steel. Flux is an unavoidable characteristic of modern urban life. How do we anticipate, guide or simply survive this tendency? One answer has been to embrace it. “The fundamental characteristics of futuristic architecture,” pronounced the 1960s London-based avantgarde group Archigram, “will be expendability and transience. Our house will last less time than we do, every generation must make its own city.” In Japan, there is a longstanding tradition (wabi-sabi) of facing transience. Inspired by the Ise Grand Shrine, which is dismantled and rebuilt every 20 years (remaining always new and always old), Kisho Kurokawa of the Metabolists proposed architecture “growing… as a constantly changing process. Impermanent beauty, immaterial beauty… a new aesthetic based on movement.” The problem the radicals confronted was a view of what the future city should be because of what it has been. Despite recent flirtations with ‘blobism’ and amoeba-like biomimetic shapes, we remain wedded to the idea of architecture as solid, permanent, averse to evolution. This has remained the case even during the modern era. The big problem with Brutalism was perhaps not so much its controversial aesthetics as its inability to develop; when form follows function, and then function changes, what are we left with? Yet the purpose of buildings often changes; think of the Hagia Sophia in Instanbul. Buildings are simply structures that are built. They remain so regardless of the material used. What we take for granted as natural was first invented and then developed over millennia. In ancient Çatalhöyük, people entered houses not through the design innovation of the door but through a hole in the roof. In the same spirit of continual refinement, there have been many attempts to move beyond our present way of thinking. A recurring vision of contemporary futurologists is of apartments in which partitions move around to maximise and pluralise limited space. At its flimsiest, this resembles set design, but it might become a much more fluid process. To go further, we need to ask what architecture is. For the Blur Building, Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Scofidio and Charles Renfro shrouded a platform in Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland in a haze of water droplets. It is a building made of mist, using computers to monitor and adapt the structure according to climatic conditions. Sean Lally has proposed an architecture that does not just inefficiently contain energy but rather is made from it. Challenging ideas might simply be those whose time has 18
not yet come. Retrospect often makes prophets of the curious. Let’s elaborate Arthur C. Clarke’s prophecy a little. Nanobots would create a programmable architecture that would change shape, function and style at command, in anticipation or even independently. Imagine an apartment where furniture fluidly morphs from the walls and floor, adapting to the inhabitants, an apartment that physically mutates into a Sukiyazukuri tea-room or an Ottoman pleasure palace or something as yet unseen, while outside the entire skyline is continually rearranging itself. Architecture might become an art available to all. The advantages of nanomaterials are already becoming apparent; consider the strength of graphene, the insulation of aerogel. The idea of a self-repairing, pollutantneutralising, climate-adapting “living” architecture no longer seems the preserve of fiction. Resistance to the idea of buildings that could grow (as in John Johansen’s forms) or liquefy (like William Katavolos’s designs) is almost as much a question of our conservatism as of technical limitations. But as the materials scientist Rachel Armstrong has observed, this vision of the city as a biological or ecological manifestation is not so much a leap into the unknown as a maturation of ancient Vitruvian ideals.
Every advance will have repercussions. The idea of walking through walls that simultaneously scan us for illnesses might sound promising—but what else will they monitor? Who will they answer to? What will it mean for human creativity, let alone employment, when there are buildings that can build themselves? We might put any fears we have about nanotechnology down to an age-old terror of the unseen; the all-consuming, self-replicating nano-swarm of “grey goo” is akin to a viral pandemic; the fear of continual surveillance is the fear of a watchful omnipresent god. Yet these fears are, at their root, simply a fear of ourselves; what our rulers and indeed we would do with such power. Perhaps the fears are wellplaced; the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal, in which cars were engineered to deceive their investigators, seems like one portent of the emerging Internet of Things. The US and Russian militaries have employed nanotechnology to improve the transmission of energy in explosives, meaning that certain future buildings and their inhabitants definitely won’t remain solid. The problem, as ever, is that, while technology changes, human nature remains the same.
Darran Anderson is an art and architecture writer whose work has appeared in 3:AM Magazine, The Quietus and gorse, among others. This article was first published on Aeon and appears here under the Creative Commons licence. 19
Four details from â€œOld Townâ€? a work in progress by Mark Tworow: 30 x 36 oil on canvas. Visit marktworow.com to see more. 20
UNLOCKING story by Jo Boxwell illustration by Facundo Gastiazoro
uesday. Lake swimming. Soggy grass mushed flat from the imprints she’s made before. Her body slips into the deep, icy cold, her limbs pushing rhythmically through the shock. “Welcome to paradise,” he said when he brought her here. “Not many people have lakes to themselves.” Marsha wouldn’t have minded a few more people. Paul says people are trouble. Better off without them. Ducks, though, he likes ducks. They both do. Sociable creatures, and not mean like geese. Even so, he shoots at them once in a while to keep them from fouling up the shoreline. They see people all the time. They see them and they don’t see them. On the Via Rail. Silver with two thin stripes of colour, and the word that reminds her she’s part of the world. Canada. Tuesdays and Thursdays it rolls past. Quieter than the freight trains, and so fleeting it’s almost romantic. The small lake is hidden on the far side of their property, at the base of the mountains, shielded from the eyes of passing travellers by a thick curtain of trees. The people on the train would never notice her anyway. They’re looking for the quintessential Canadian creatures promised to them in tourist brochures; bears, caribou, moose, not a slight woman
with grey-blonde hair who could disappear into the fabric of her dress. Whenever Marsha hears the train making its way through the valley, her thoughts take her to it. She closes her eyes and the lake disappears. She’s running barefoot in her summer cotton over the dead needles and across the parched grass until she’s up against the gravelly edge of the property where it meets the railroad ties. She stretches out her hand as the train grows on the horizon, its sound having reached her first. She strains her eyes, hopelessly trying to determine whether it’s slowing down, unsure if she really wants it to or not. It won’t stop. Not for her. But then it does, just when she thought it wasn’t going to. She fumbles in her pockets for the fare she already knows she doesn’t have. A man with a conflicted expression lets her on, quietly. She sits in the special car with the huge windows that stretch up across the roof. She stares out at the property from the train, and where the glass curves, she follows the trees upwards as they climb the mountains beyond. The beauty of it sticks in her throat. That view is home. She doesn’t belong on this side of the glass. A soft touch on her shoulder. Standing in the aisle beside her is a little boy with neatly parted hair and that type of attire people call smartcasual.
“Why don’t you have any shoes on?” he asks plainly. She refuses to look down. Goosebumps prickle her arms as she senses the attention of other passengers honing in on her. Poor woman, they’re thinking. Can she manage on her own? Paul’s voice. He isn’t on the train, but she hears him just the same. “You get on a train, Marsha, and who knows where you’ll end up.” He keeps her safe, here in Paradise. She opens her eyes and unclenches her toes as she treads water, swishing her arms methodically by her sides. Her lake is murkier than it used to be, now that her eyesight is going. She could’ve gone when the children were grown, back when she could still see the tiny fish effortlessly evading her limbs. That would’ve been the time for a new start, but he would’ve found her, and broken it. Paul is calling her from the house. She always comes when he calls.
hursday. Lakes occupy spaces for a long time, but the water doesn’t feel trapped because it always moves. Sometimes she thinks she’d be happier if she could slip into the clouds or the ground. Marsha imagines that her lake is so big she will discover some great urban sprawl if she keeps paddling along its edge, like Lake Ontario, so enormous you could look out over it and think it was the ocean. People live like rats in big cities, Paul says. Crawling all over each other. They learn not to care, and then they scratch their heads at the high crime rate. It’s just as well, Paul says, that the two of them live in Paradise. Nobody else would take her on anyway. She’s lucky he came along. Marsha is paddling slowly along the grassy edge of the lake looking for Toronto, tall and shiny as she imagines it to be, when she hears the Via Rail train making its way through the valley once more. The sound is slower, less determined, than usual. Metallic squeals followed by a sudden quiet. Something has happened, something that gives her no time to imagine, or for her imaginings to die away into the distance with the train’s departure. Her curiosity pulls her from the water. Marsha slips onto the shore and dries herself, hurriedly stepping into her dress. She breaches the treeline as she pulls the back of her left sandal upwards over her heel. The train has stopped on the track, almost directly in front of the house. Silver, with the word Canada printed majestically along the side. There it is; the car with the huge windows that stretch across the roof. She could walk over and touch it. She imagines there are people inside looking out. People who can see her. She could wave. She doesn’t. It’ll be on its way again soon. It’ll be gone again before she has time to think about it. Marsha enters the house through the back way. She catches Paul locking the front door. He shuffles over to the window and gently pulls the thin curtain to one side. “Lock the back” he barks, without turning his head. They’ve never locked the doors. Not in forty years. The latch sticks as she moves it. She hovers in the hallway as he stoops over the windowsill. The stationary train has made him a stranger. A man who locks doors. He’s 23
realized, finally, that he’s old. Vulnerable. The thought almost makes her laugh. Marsha slips into the kitchen. She gets to her work. Cleaning the counters with vinegar and elbow grease as the train silently disturbs their landscape. It could be a mechanical failure, she supposes. They could be stuck there for a while if they have to call somebody to get them going again. “Could be anything,” Paul grumbles. “Could be a security threat.” She peers into the living room. He’s sitting now, still facing the window, fingers twitching. Her husband, a man of blood and vitriol, is scared of what’s outside. The train has exposed him. She scatters flour on the counter and rolls out her pastry. Paul moves the vase of wildflowers from the table beside the window to give himself a better view. They have more poise set on the carpet than he does in their place, on a wobbly wooden chair at the table they never sit at. He’s in his short sleeves and washed-out jeans. His arms are thin where they used to be tough. Once in a while he brushes his palm over his freckled head. It made more sense when he had hair. Marsha pulls out the butter. There’s a postcard on the fridge. A pod of orcas in the ocean near Prince Rupert. It’s from her granddaughter, Alexa. She lives there now. That’s where the train ends up when it’s heading west. Marsha pulls the postcard off the fridge and touches the shiny black dorsal fins one by one. Orcas were prehistoric dogs, once. She learned that from a documentary. Television is the only piece of technology they have out here in Paradise. Nobody can see in. That’s why Paul likes it. Orcas still have finger bones; five in each pectoral flipper. She’s seen the documentary enough times to have absorbed the narrator’s halfwhispered knowledge. Land mammals that learned to live in the water, orcas adapted to the most extreme of changes. If she were the subject of a documentary, there wouldn’t be much to marvel at. Stuck on the same routines. Old dogs can’t learn new tricks, the narrator would whisper sympathetically. She will stay in her nest until death takes her. She’s much too old for new. It would be something, though, to see an orca. To see the ocean. She creams the butter and adds brown sugar and syrup, egg and vanilla. Hums an old country tune. Release Me. Let Me Go. She drops raisins into the bottoms of her pastry shells, and then submerges them in the beige mixture. She remembers being young. The loneliness of it, always being out of place. Alexa is different. She goes her own way. To My Sweet Gramma. The postcard is five years old, but that’s the first line on it. Marsha can recite the whole thing without even turning it over. Alexa was always her favourite. Come visit! We’ll go to the most amazing fish restaurant, and then we’ll go for a long walk just like we used to at the lake. Marsha has pictured that coastal forest walk a thousand times, breathing in the wet air and marvelling at a landscape cluttered with mossy logs and skunk cabbages. That’s how she imagines it, and just when her legs are beginning to feel tired, they’ll come across a secret view 24
of the ocean through the trees. Paul says it rains too much in Rupert. A waste of gas, going to a place like that. There’s no good reason to go anywhere when they already live in Paradise. Marsha puts her tray of tarts in the oven. There’s no sign of activity from the train. The passengers will be getting antsy by now. When they were moving, they wouldn’t have been thinking about the fact that they can’t get out. Spaces feel a lot smaller when you start to see them that way. Paul must have been thinking the same. “They won’t be coming on my land. That’s my grass out there. I don’t want anybody thinking they can just get out and walk around.” She watches him as he unfolds himself from the chair and hobbles into the back room. He comes back with his rifle. He leans it against his knees. Flesh and bones, he is now. The gun makes him look weaker. The smell of sugar and butter melting wafts through the kitchen. Marsha leans against the counter and closes her eyes. She’s running across the property again towards the train. She touches the hot metal with her fingers, and it bursts into life, heaving and squealing. It picks up speed as she waves frantically after it, heading west down the valley without her. When she turns around, Paul is there, gun pointing. He won’t shoot. The oven timer beeps. “Switch that damn thing off!” Paul doesn’t like to be interrupted when he’s concentrating. Marsha takes the tarts out of the oven and waits for them to cool. The train is still there. Paul is still watching it with the gun stretched across his lap. Marsha looks back at the train; she has to keep checking on it, because in the next moment she could glance out of the same window and find it gone. The tarts haven’t cooled yet, but she crams most of them into a large container. She wraps one in a piece of kitchen roll and slips it into her pocket along with the postcard. She opens the safe and pulls out the little bit of cash Paul keeps in there. She’s been watching him for long enough to have figured out how. Maybe it’s enough; maybe it isn’t. There is a solitary butter tart remaining on the counter. Marsha puts it on a saucer; a floral one pinched around the edges. It was a wedding present, but he won’t remember. She squirts a dollop of whipped cream on top, just the way he likes it. Paul takes the plate out of her hand without even looking at her, his eyes fixed on the threat beyond the front window. Marsha steps into the hallway. She puts on her shoes. She stares at the front door. She unlocks it. He hears the click. She doesn’t turn around when she feels his eyes turn on her. “Marsha? What are you doing?” Her hand sticks on the handle, sweaty and hesitant. Bitterness in his throat, surging up as she opens the door, but that’s all that remains of him. She walks outside, into the hot sun, in her raincoat.
LANDING by Emily McGiffin
Arrival is a perilous grey and slapdash, billows break upon the gunwales, keel burnishes the reef and dips. A tender, lapstrake, ferrying the banished through this stricken league of tide awash and buckling. Each purple-turbaned snail drags a hind foot rockward, dash of spume engulfs all pools of sinewed, blistered weed and cresting now the froth licks under; on the air the heavy damp, that sweet and cloying scent of fish and twisted wrack, the gulls, clamouring, the whistle and the grunt of oarlocks, feather, dip, and draw; sea-soft flowers serene in their puddles, hermits lurching past then smashing how the waves blast in! Toss sand, toss weed, toss splintered elementary flash. Kelp, too, serpentine and lashed, splotched coralline and nodding as the salt tide heaves and thrusts. Hauling from these shallows wetly glisten we emerge on foreign shore.
Emily McGiffin lives in Hazelton, BC. She is the author of two poetry collections and a forthcoming scholarly book. â€œLandingâ€? is part of a book-length poem in progress.
On Ancient Ice words & photos by Matt J. Simmons
cynical wind sweeps down the mountain, reaching out with icy fingers to freeze my dripping toes. My feet have never been so cold. Crossing a creek barefoot in the shadow of glacial ice is, well, a chilling experience. Still, I have to smile. I lean against my pack and look around at the landscape. Rocks everywhere are balanced on bizarre, unnatural perches, jumbled hills of them looming up from the flat, narrow valley like piles of pebbles gathered by a giant child. Directly in front of me the creek tumbles past, dark with silt and as near to frozen as possible while still moving. Beyond it, a steep, seemingly impassable wall of loose rock climbs a hundred feet up to the tundra, a striking strip of bright green that melts imperceptibly into the greyness of the low-lying clouds. I strain to pick out the route we walked down. The dark dirty foot of the glacier descends down towards the rocky valley on my left and in the distance it disappears into a wall of fog. To my right, the creek continues down to the main arm of the glacier, our intended route through the landscape. Movement is everywhere: water hurrying past, scree slopes giving way in little slides, and that cold wind pushing the fog and clouds around. The glacier groans across the landscape, the geological equivalent of Aesop’s tortoise. Even the rocks grumble, settling and shifting like restless souls in an uncertain world. I stretch lazily—time for me to move as well. I slip back into socks, lace up my boots, and strap the gaiters back onto my legs. My friend and climbing partner Darcy and I started out from our base camp in the impenetrable early morning fog, and we’ve already walked a few kilometres. Beyond the tent it’s a day’s walk to the lonely strip of remote highway that carried us here in the first place. We’re in the far northwest corner of British Columbia, between Alaska and Yukon Territory, trekking across a formidable landscape to visit the site of one of North America’s most amazing discoveries. In this part of the world, here in the mountains, we are insignificant specks in an endless landscape of rock, snow, and ice. 28
atshenshini-Alsek Park is iconic Canadian wilderness. It’s rugged, remote, and truly remarkable. Perched on a confluence of borders—BC, Yukon, and Alaska—the park is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the largest protected natural area in the world. Grizzly bears and black bears, wolves and wolverines, foxes, coyotes, and caribou, lynx, Dall sheep, shrews, mountain goats, moose, martens, marmots, ground squirrels, lemmings, and snowshoe hares all call this place home. A rare sub-species of black bear found nowhere else in the world lives here, and the big northern skies are filled with over 125 species of bird including eagle, falcon, and ptarmigan. Those same skies light up at night with the northern lights, a spectral phenomenon that captures the imagination of locals and visitors alike in a way that nothing else can. This is a seriously wild place. But to call it wilderness is not entirely fair. The Tatshenshini region is neither uninhabited nor inhospitable, the two defining characteristics of wilderness. Wild mountains and vast rivers might define the physical landscape, but its human occupants define its spirit. British Columbia—especially in the north—is often considered an “empty” landscape, a place of daunting terrain and even more daunting wildlife. But it’s not empty. Traditional “grease” trails that extend inland from the Pacific coast are ancient routes on which Indigenous groups traveled vast distances to trade items like dried seaweed and eulachon oil for caribou and moose hides. Many overland routes have disappeared back into the landscape, reclaimed by nature in their disuse. Others are still there, just buried under asphalt—roads and highways that follow logical paths through mountain passes and up river valleys are often built on traditional trade routes. A few are still used as trails today. In Tatshenshini-Alsek Park the landscape itself has been used for millennia, both as a home and as a means to move people and goods from one place to another. Present-day hikers roam the tundra with ground squirrels and grizzly bears, and tourists from around the world float down the park’s namesake rivers. Most visitors are unaware of the ancient paths they trace with their movements. First Nations may have lived here continuously for thousands of years, but because their mark on the landscape is subtle, it’s all too easy to ignore their traditional presence. It doesn’t help that much of the landscape is covered in ice. The UNESCO site is home to the largest non-polar ice fields in the world. Still, trade and migration routes wended their way through the treacherous terrain as glaciers surged across the landscape. People found ways to make glaciers work for them: they climbed over them, paddled under them, camped beside them, and drank their icy waters. But traveling on glaciers has an inherent element of risk, exponentially increased by the long distances over which these glaciers span. A single misplaced step out on the ice can mean the end of a journey…and the end of a life. “I think we should walk on the ice,” says Darcy, in his quiet but emphatic manner. I knew it was coming but I’m still unsure: half of me wants desperately to scramble up onto that glacier but the other, more sensible half, rails against the idea. Still over ten kilometres from the site, our intended route follows a massive, ice-filled valley, bordered on the near side by a steep ridge of loose rock. For about eight kilometres—as far as we can see—the evidence of falling rocks (including boulders the size of small trucks) is scattered along the edge of the glacier like a trail of monolithic breadcrumbs. Our options: walk the side slope and risk being crushed by a falling rock, or walk the glacier itself. It might seem like an obvious choice, but neither of us has much experience on ice. We are carrying ice axes and crampons, but we didn’t bring ropes, harnesses, or ascenders. Glacier travel has its allure, sure, but part of that allure is the danger inherent in
the experience. Glaciers are dynamic, restless giants subject to sudden change, sometimes violent, always dramatic. Crevasses open and close and hidden rivers of water travel unseen, dangerously undermining the surface of the ice. I’d always imagined I would take on a glacier for the first time in the company of mountaineers, equipped with both gear and knowledge. Equipped with neither, I nervously look at my friend. “Are you sure?” I ask. Darcy explains his point of view: the loose moraine is infinitely more dangerous than the ice. In a recently de-glaciated landscape, boulders the size of backpacks move at the slightest touch; without time to settle, the unpredictable terrain has the potential to break a leg, or worse. I shrug my shoulders and let a grin slip carelessly onto my face. “Ok, let’s do it.” We work our way through the last of the boulders and I take my first steps on glacial ice: moment of truth. The sound of water is, if anything, louder, and the implications of that are disconcerting. The ice itself is definitely not the clear stuff of ice cubes. Instead it’s dark, glimpses of glistening blackness through a thin veil of dirt and rock. Moving slowly and deliberately, I pick each footstep with care. Eventually, we get out onto the main body of ice, away from its rocky edge. While the sound of water still burbles enigmatically around us, the frozen mass under my feet feels reassuringly solid. The patches of ice that peek through the dirt are bluer here, a brilliant turquoise that is startlingly vivid. The moment washes over us like a cold wind: looking up the broad glacial valley is like looking at an empty road. “This is easy,” I admit sheepishly. “Like walking on a highway,” Darcy replies, looking up from his camera with a wry smile. “And the best part is we’re away from that bomb run of boulders.” He looks meaningfully over his shoulder at the edge of the glacier, littered with the rocky refuse of loose scree. I spin around, drinking in the landscape and relishing the strange atmosphere. Everything gleams in the sheen of adrenaline. The ice flows down from spectacular snow-covered mountains that poke their toothy peaks up into clouds that hang low over the alpine. We’re so close now— just a valley away from the site—and I feel an intense connection to both the landscape and its ancient occupants, as I stand here and try to take it all in. A few rays of sun plunge from the sky and glitter at the foot of the glacier. Distant dark clouds glow as if the sun is burning them away from the inside out. The light is luminous and otherworldly, the scene so spectacular my mind fizzes from the sheer exuberance of the moment. It’s the kind of scene that has remained largely unchanged for thousands of years, and I wonder if the way it makes me feel—staggered by its immensity and awestruck by its raw beauty—is the same way ancient travellers felt when they walked out on this ice thousands of years ago. And what if it was the last scene they ever saw?
n 1999, just a few kilometres from where we’re standing on the ice, three hunters from southeast BC—Bill Hanlon, Mike Roche, and Warren Ward—made the discovery of a lifetime while sheep hunting in the park. As they walked along the edge of a receding glacier, they found “sticks” lying on the ground. Anywhere else a few bits of wood would go unnoticed but in the alpine, organic material is conspicuous. After a few minutes puzzling over the objects it dawned on them that these weren’t just branches snagged on the coat of a caribou, they were artifacts. Roche picked up a curved piece of notched wood that reminded them of traditional hunting tools. “We were trying to remember the word atlatl,” Hanlon recalls. Ward, looking through binoculars at the ice, silenced their excited conversation. He had found the owner of the tools.
The hunters climbed up onto the ice to get a closer look—Hanlon says it was one of those moments where everything comes into focus. “There were tingles up our spines,” he says. “We could see the legs going down into the ice.” Partially emerging from the receding edge of the glacier, the body was a bizarre and chilling sight, and unmistakably human. Though headless, the body was mostly intact, still cloaked in a robe made of ground squirrel fur. “You could tell it was old from the stitching,” Hanlon continues. There were artifacts scattered everywhere around—in the ice, on the gravel, and emerging next to the body from the surrounding snowfield. The hunters knew it wasn’t anything contemporary, but out there in the mountains they didn’t yet know that they had stumbled on one of the most significant archaeological finds in North America—a teenager that scientists believe had been frozen in the ice for hundreds of years. The hunters snapped a few pictures, marked the location on their map, and immediately took news of their discovery back to the appropriate authorities in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. A few days later, a group of archaeologists and local First Nations visited the site. Within a few weeks, the news was global. Kwäday Dän Ts’inchi (Long Ago Person Found) trekked in the Tatshenshini landscape about 300 years before Europeans first explored the mountains of the northwest. Because the glacier he was found in had moved very little since his death, his body was remarkably well preserved. “It was a quiet part of the glacier pinned down by nunataks, immoveable hummocks of bedrock,” says Al Mackie, a senior archaeologist involved in the project from day one. Mackie has been studying Kwäday Dän Ts’inchi for nearly twenty years; he says the significance of the find in scientific terms is immeasurable. “There aren’t many examples of archaeological sites with frozen human remains,” he explains, and fewer still where the remains are found intact. While there are older skeletal remains, Kwäday Dän Ts’inchi is the oldest preserved human remains in North America. Because of this significance, the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations agreed to allow excavation on the condition that, after a predetermined length of time, Kwäday Dän Ts’inchi was returned to his natural burial place in the mountains. The ensuing scientific studies pieced together a theoretical route—in his stomach were minerals that matched those found in a lake one day’s walk away and, slightly older, salmon and beach asparagus. On a map, it makes sense. Kwäday Dän Ts’inchi left the coast at Lynn Canal, climbed into the alpine, then trekked across the glaciers either to trade, to access another point on the coast further north, or simply to scope out a route for his family to later travel together. Whether a storm blew in and trapped him in the mountains or an avalanche buried him on top of the ice, tragically, wherever he was going, he never got there. An intimate connection to the landscape is a good way to stay safe in an otherwise volatile environment. As British bush guru and survivalist, Ray Mears puts it, “Knowledge is the key to survival and the best thing about that is it doesn’t weigh anything.” The world in which First Nations lived, prior to contact with European explorers, was an intimate existence, where the natural environment had “sentience”. It’s easy to give glaciers animalist characteristics; anything in the natural world that reflects our 31
In Sm back we ha
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photo: Tourism Smithers
In Smithers, BC, the mountains are waiting just outside the back door. From accessible day hikes to multi-day excursions, we have options for every visitor.
own fickle nature is best described in human or animal terms. While endearing in a literary sense, there’s also some practical truth to these comparisons. Glaciers’ movements are, like the movements of animals and people, predictably unpredictable. Travel for the First Nations people of the Pacific Northwest has been an integral part of seasonal life for thousands of years; during the Little Ice Age, surging glaciers had a profound effect on their route finding. While a glacial route might be easily walked one summer, providing a quick connection from one valley to the next, a year later the snow might melt to reveal an impenetrable maze of crevasses. Anthropologist and author Julie Cruikshank explains: “Aboriginal elders who speak knowledgeably about glaciers refer to observing, listening, and participating in ritualized respect relations [respect ceremonies] with glaciers.” Traditional knowledge accepts that glaciers are changeable, she says, and more like people or animals than we might like to admit. Even if it took a lot of energy, First Nations went out of their way to avoid disturbing the ice. But respect isn’t always enough. Kwäday Dän Ts’inchi was young, healthy and he carried enough provisions for the journey: food, hunting tools, a waterproof hat, and warm clothes. The discovery of pollen particles attached to his clothes suggests he was traveling in the summer—the best time of year to attempt crossing the ice alone. He would have undoubtedly observed the required respect rituals for the glaciers he was traveling on. So what happened? Initially scientists thought he may have broken his leg, leaving him trapped on the ice, but later studies showed that the trauma happened after his death, caused by the movements of the glacier itself. The current theory is that he died from exposure, but it’s impossible to know what forced him to stay out on the ice, whether a sudden snowstorm, an avalanche from surrounding snowfields, or something else entirely. The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations consider Kwäday Dän Ts’inchi to be a direct relative and therefore have no interest in discussing the “gory” details, which to them, is unsettling in the same way that it’d be unsettling to talk about the details of your grandma’s death. When I discussed this article with them I was told that some people feel very strongly about not telling the story at all. Now, we can only guess what happened.
xposed to the wind between two otherworldly valleys, each covered by contorted masses of the same ice, Darcy and I sit down on a mound of boulders to rest, eat food, and drink water. In the next valley the glacier is a cerulean blue, covered in places by drifts of snow. A shallow creek trickles unhurriedly down from a distant notch in the mountains—where Kwäday Dän Ts’inchi walked half a century ago. There’s something humbling about this valley and only part of it is the ethereal power of the mountains and the ice that scours a path between them. There’s a residual memory of travel here, an imprinted sense that we’re not the first to pick a route over the barren terrain. “I think we should walk up there,” I say, pointing at an arc of blue that climbs up and over the glacier, avoiding wide patches of snow. We stare up into the dark valley, sizing it up. Darcy agrees with the route 33
Whet or the Smith
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Whether youâ€™re looking for a family-friendly hill, epic cat-skiing, or the backcountry ski-touring experience of a lifetime, Smithers, BC has you covered. In snow, that is.
and we quietly repack our food. Once we head into this stark place, we are completely committed to the trek. I mutter a nervous request to the glacier itself: “Please don’t kill me,” and start to move up the valley. I can’t get enough of the scenery—there’s something compelling about all this bleakness. A river of ice crashes down the mountainside above me, fiercely crevassed and piercingly blue. Equally contorted rock bursts through the ice and climbs towards the clouds, steep cliffs that disappear into the stormy sky. Rock and ice are usually static, but here they seem suffused with an angry energy. The whole valley seems to resonate with it; it’s the kind of place where you instinctively speak quietly. By walking the ice here and by connecting the tundra to this slightly savage mountain valley, we tie ourselves irrevocably to the past: every step a step in the footsteps of the people who call this place home. I feel an intense connection to Kwäday Dän Ts’inchi by following his route through the mountains and as I work my way up the valley, I imagine how he must have felt—purposeful and single-minded, aware of the dangers around him and in that awareness, connected to the landscape in a way that few people experience. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m out climbing mountains or trekking across a wild landscape. We breathlessly climb the final slope to find ourselves in a strange and beautiful place. An intense wind scours the cracked and tortured rocks that push their way out of the perpetual snow in chaotic, jagged heaps. Shuffling at the edge of a pristine and windswept snowfield about half a mile from the site, mindful of our promise to the direct ancestors of Kwäday Dän Ts’inchi to maintain a respectful distance, we burrow under layers of fleece and think about what happened here. A young man died, alone with the ice, snow, and rock. To get here, we followed the paths of the people who have traveled in these mountains for thousands of years, climbing into the clouds and crossing glaciers as a part of normal life. Most made it safely across the ice; a few didn’t. I squint my eyes as a few weak rays of light reflect off the snow. The wind whispers cold thoughts over my shoulder and I shiver, maybe because I’m cold, maybe not. Gwänaschis to the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations for permission to travel through their traditional territory, and to retrace a portion of the route walked by the Kwäday Dän Ts’ inchi ancestor.
Portions of this article were first published in Wend Magazine. To learn more, check out the recent publication edited by Richard J. Hebda, Sheila Greer, and Alexander P. Mackie, published by the Royal BC Museum.
Mount cross-c there’s
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photo: John Welburn
Mountain biking in Smithers, BC is world-class. From epic cross-country to fast, challenging downhill and even kidsâ€™ trails, thereâ€™s a little something for everyone.
when surf starts photos by Joseph Crawford 37
in utero words by Melissa Sawatsky photo by Wade Wilson
This story begins with an ending.
The meat cooler at Safeway has been picked over. The half-filled rack of steaks reveals a piece of cardboard at the bottom of the cooler, stained with drips from leaky packages of raw meat. I’m back in the hospital bed staring at the blood-soaked protective pad that just caught my dead son. Trauma is like that. The visceral experience gives way to snapshots of sensory memories that take root in dim corners of the body, and every now and then, it pounces into the present moment and induces paralysis. I don’t recall how that particular grocery trip played out—whether I fled from the oppressive, fluorescent lights and fended off a panic attack in my car, or steeled myself and continued to march through the task of collecting food for the week. I’ve reacted in both ways when some innocuous image, comment, or sensation triggers a phantom return to the experience of losing my first baby. My son succumbed to osteogenesis imperfecta 20 weeks into my first pregnancy. I have since given birth to a healthy child and am often asked, “Is this your first?” The answer to this question is complicated and problematic: yes and no. If I say yes, I feel as though I am denying and dishonouring the experience of losing my son. If I say no and provide a brief explanation, the inquirer is often uncomfortable, apologetic, or dismissive. Miscarriages, fetal deaths, stillbirths, and infant deaths represent varying degrees of an invisible loss that society in general doesn’t have sufficient vocabulary for. It has proven difficult for me to find words to fill this particular kind of silence.
Ultrasound I hold each side of my belly, a seed of doubt branching out as the ultrasound technician remains quiet. She is taking far too many photo stills. Finally, she says, “Wait here while I call your midwife.” My husband distracts himself by studying posters of the skeletal and nervous systems in the waiting area, trying to ignore my incessant chatter. “Why would she call Bobbie if it wasn’t something serious? Wade? I’m kind of freaking out here. Why don’t you seem concerned? Did the baby look normal to you?” Not that we’d know what to look for. We’re taken into a private room. I somehow already know what we’re going to hear and try in vain to breathe through my constricted throat as my heart rate accelerates. Wade refuses the proffered chair. Bobbie is clear and forthright. There is something severely wrong with our baby, and even if it survives to term, it will not survive beyond birth. Something about broken bones and underdeveloped limbs. I tune her out and focus on catching my breath; my lungs feel as though they’ve collapsed. I glance around for a wastebasket, certain I’m going to throw up. I look at Wade and he isn’t ready to meet my gaze, his expression hard and unreadable. He asks practical questions I can’t find the words for. Bobbie will give us time to digest the news and come by our house in a couple of hours when she has more details from the radiologist. Wade wraps his arm around my shoulders as we leave the hospital and make our way to the car. He starts to sputter and the tears come as he struggles to unlock the passenger side door. It’s my turn to take care of him. I guide him to a small field of grass just beyond our car and we sit there for a long time. The peaks of Hudson Bay Mountain loom bare, its ski runs out of season. A few hours later, Bobbie comes by with a report from the radiologist. The fetus is obviously grossly abnormal...severely dysmorphic limbs...only bud-like contours present. I focus on the good news: A view of the heart shows four apparent chambers with a heart rate of 176 bpm. What is this sound that escapes us? A new, instinctual language— something perhaps called keening. I tell myself: “You’re still a mother— will still have been a mother to this fragile being, no matter the fractured bones and bud-like limbs.” In the background, Bobbie explains the options, which include inducing labour, a dilation and evacuation procedure, or simply letting the pregnancy take its course. Wade and I continue to seek out patches of green. The yard at home is dry and needles into our skin as the cat sits sentinel, taking care of her parents. It is a stolen afternoon of disbelief—perhaps they are mistaken and our child will defy the odds. “At this moment,” I think, “my baby still has a heartbeat.” Waiting Room The twenty-something couple across from me curl into each other in the Fetal Diagnostic Service waiting area, touching foreheads. Another woman is here alone, her expression as unreadable as a passport photo. Three more women arrive, the youngest talking over the white noise of the BC Women’s Hospital lobby. 47
“My baby has a hole in its stomach. How am I not supposed to panic?” I study the faces of each strange sister-friend sitting in this circle of chairs and decide I have a head start. We came to Vancouver for an appointment with specialists here, and were just informed that our baby no longer has a heartbeat. I’ve had almost two weeks to process the news of this impending loss; the young woman beside me is in the throes of it. My husband plays a game on his smartphone and I pace the hallway behind the seating area. We’ve been here for almost an hour, and some of the women were here before me. When an attendant approaches and calls my name, I see the other women sigh in frustration and I look at them apologetically. A dead fetus bumped me to the front of the line. The attendant looks around and reads the energy of the group. “I’m sorry we’re running behind everyone. We need to see people in order of priority.” I place a hand on my belly and feel an uncomfortable sense of tragic privilege wash over me. The young woman lets out a loud scoff. “And it’s not a priority that my baby has a hole in its stomach?” I’m torn between the urge to slap her across the face or pull her into a tight embrace. The attendant leans over and speaks to her in hushed tones. The woman’s hands begin to shake and someone, perhaps her mother, wraps an arm around her shoulders. I turn away and inhale, holding my hands steady. I have a head start. Induction There is a profound isolation that comes with carrying a dead or dying fetus within your body for however long it takes to resolve (naturally, or through termination via induced labour or a surgical procedure). I was conflicted by the sense of feeling physically trapped in tragedy, yet reluctant to lose the only remaining link I still had to what would have been my first child. With the guidance of our social worker, we decide that inducing labour is the right choice for us. Labour will give us a chance to be present and conscious as our baby leaves the womb, as well as afford us the chance to hold him and say goodbye. This feels particularly important for Wade, who would otherwise have no physical connection with his baby. Barbara walks us through the administrative side of the process, which includes choices about what we want to happen during and after delivery, a potential autopsy to confirm the diagnosis, cremation services, and other options to assist us with the grieving process. We are given a pamphlet: Healing Together: For Couples Grieving the Death of their Baby. I open it a few hours before the induction and read the first line: “Your baby has died.” For reasons only the mysteries of trauma can explain, I burst out laughing and it takes me several minutes to compose myself. Wade studies me as though concerned I’m having a breakdown and I have a hard time explaining why this blunt statement of fact strikes me as hilarious. My baby has died. 48
It feels surreal and I momentarily disassociate from the reality of our situation and the ordeal we’re about to endure. Perhaps I’m experiencing a form of denial as I progress through the grieving process, but whatever the psychological implications of my laughter, it is helpful. These pamphlets begin to feel like film scripts, instructing me on how I’m meant to feel and process the death of my baby. I’m rehearsing for my role as the strong, stoic, bereft mother-that-would-have-been. For a moment we both laugh at the tragicomedy of life and come up for air. Death Canal This is the part of the story I can only relay as a montage of imagery: Wade, sitting beside me all night for the 15 hours it takes to deliver our son’s remains. Uncontrollable shaking for hours on end, partially due to the medication required to induce labour. A nurse—one of many—appears during the worst period of mental and physical pain and guides me through a meditation. In the end, the delivery is effortless—one body gusting from another. We are given the gentle suggestion to abstain from holding and viewing our son’s body. Then there is a mild commotion before I am wheeled into a room painted entirely royal blue and sedated for dilation and curettage. The recovery nurse arrives with a few photos of our son’s hand. Knuckles that resemble his father’s. Fingernails just growing in. The Beginning During the weeks and months following the loss of my son, I find myself searching for a way to give voice to a form of grief that seems to only be whispered inside private living rooms or behind closed office doors. I answer honestly when an acquaintance innocently asks, “How are you?” and talk through her obvious discomfort until she shares a similar story with me. Another woman states: “I’ve had two children and nine pregnancies.” A friend reaches out and shares the story of losing her son to a genetic condition several months after his birth. I am supported by this sisterhood as I learn to speak of my own experience. My story ends with a beginning. After prolonged consultations with our geneticist, I am pregnant again the following year and fraught with ambivalence, fear, awe, and an acceptance of the fact I cannot control the outcome. A few weeks before my daughter is born, I write a poem for my children—to try to reconcile how my son’s death made room for my daughter to come out kicking.
THE WORK OF LIVING by Melissa Sawatsky
I sit at the centre of this quiet, welcome it. The cat pads around me, observes this second swell of my bellyâ€” remembers how the first morphed into a raven and we covered the walls with birds, allowed a murder of crows to overtake the lawn. The cat humours us and lets the corvids be. I try not to decide they are a visitation from my dead child, think of how he emptied in a rush of blood and broken bones, answer an acquaintance on the street with no, not my first. I let the black birds watch, but not stalk. My son stands just outside the entrance to our new home. We paint over gradations of beige, sand and stain the wooden archways, sweep, mop, dust off old furniture we've rearranged within new walls. I sit at the centre of this now-quiet griefâ€” always the same age as my son would be. His sister shifts, kicks, waits out this prelude to begin the work of living.
A bird's eye view of North Tweedsmuir Provincial Park words & photos by Taylor Burk
You wake up to the gentle crackling of a wood stove, and
adjust your eyes to the soft morning sunlight shining into your cabin. You sit up and look out the window in front of your bed and see a perfect layer of mist over the mirror-like Tesla Lake and the surrounding mountains. On the shore you see the floatplane that brought you to the lodge, patiently waiting for today’s adventure. Flying is the only way into this natural oasis, as there are no roads or trails—not even any other connecting waterways. Just you, your inviting cabin, and untouched wilderness. This is how days start at Tesla Lake Lodge. Sitting just shy of 1000 metres above sea level, Tesla Lake is located deep in the rugged Pattullo Range of BC’s Coast Mountains, in the heart of the Eutsuk Nature Conservancy Area of North Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. One of the largest of BC’s provincial parks, Tweedsmuir is home to vast, remote mountain ranges sprinkled with waterfalls, lakes, and hiking trails. It is a giant playground for any outdoor lover. Tesla Lake Lodge is owned and operated by Nick Hawes and his wife Mary, who fly in lucky visitors to experience the utmost solitude in unspoiled nature and world class angling. Nick’s roots are on the opposite coast of Canada, in Nova Scotia. He grew up skiing the small maritime snow hills, dreaming of the powder engulfed mountains of BC he saw in ski magazines. Barely 18 and fresh out of high school, he decided to head west in search of work. Tree planting jobs were rumoured to be lucrative, so he hitchhiked across the country and soon found himself working in the mountains that had seemed another world away in his youth. After years in the forestry industry, Nick was ready for a new challenge, and was intrigued by the helicopters he had often commuted in. As a child he had been captivated by aircrafts: “Every small boy that sees a plane fly over kinda wonders about how to get a hold of the controls of that machine, right?” He eventually took a risk and got his pilot licence. Fast-forward more than fifteen years, and Nick now has the dream job, flying over turquoise rivers, evergreen forest, mountaintops and glaciers, in four planes he knows intimately. Nick and Mary book and fly in only one group at a time to Tesla, for guaranteed privacy and exclusivity. The lodge is the only establishment in the area, so its guests are the only people with access to the lake as well as three others and a river, all excellent for fly fishing. Trophy rainbow trout swim the crystal clear waters, including a legendary 25-pounder named Walter, who has outsmarted eager anglers time after time. Several boats and canoes are available for use, and transportation from lake to lake consists of one scenic flight after another. The Tweedsmuir area is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in North America, and getting a bird’s eye view is well worth the trek. 51
Edge of the World The beginning of a thing is often not recognized as such
until long after, or indeed until an ending appears on the horizon. Such was the case in the fall of 1994, when four dirtbags pooled their limited resources and headed north from Vancouver and the Kootenays to undertake a month-long sea-kayak trip in Gwaii Hanaas National Park Reserve. The Queen Charlottes moniker at that time still stuck to the maps like the peeling paint it was, but no amount of European paint could ever cover the magic of Haida Gwaii. At the time it was obvious that this was the adventure of a lifetime for the four of us, but for me the experience was to kindle a life-long love affair with Haida Gwaii and those islands at the Edge of the World. The four of us borrowed and rented four single-person sea kayaks, a motley mix of nice but older fiberglass crafts and one roto-molded, spine-wrecking plastic kayak nicknamed the â€œSS Prickboatâ€? for her unique blend of attitude and discomfort. With the boats strapped to a sketchy, home-built boat rack tied to the bed of my pickup, the road trip across the province only hinted at the adventure to come. Our vagabond bliss of sleeping in parks came to a grinding halt in a Prince Rupert city park when we awoke to find much of our gear stolen from the back of the truck. The memory of this 55
photo: matt j. simmons
words & original slides by Dave Quinn
photo: matt j. simmons
unpleasant event was beautifully eclipsed by a chance meeting in that same park with Captain Highliner himself. A bearded old salt complete with Sou’wester, mildewed old wool sweater, and gumboots. Our piles of trip food and gear strewn across the lawn piqued his interest, and he asked about our plans. He listened politely to our visions of grand adventure exploring Gwaii Hanaas, then proceeded to trim them down to size with a tale of his own solo row in a dory around the entire Haida Gwaii archipelago, decades prior. And we thought we were tough. I recalled this meeting with a grin years later on a flight up to Haida Gwaii, where my seatmate was a keen fish biologist heading up to study the unique strains of trout and sculpins in the remote lakes along the West Coast of Moresby. Their isolation, he hoped, would provide a unique opportunity to study evolution in a situation not unlike that of Darwin’s famous finches on the Galapagos, where every island has its own, unique species of finch. Every lake, he hoped, would contain genetically unique species of fish. I dutifully bit my tongue as I thought of Captain Highliner’s tale of scrambling up to these same remote lakes, capturing fish in a bucket, and hauling them over the ridge to neighbouring lakes to make sure they were stocked as well. Nature untouched by the hand of man must be truly hard to come by if the lakes of Moresby’s west coast have been meddled with. Re-outfitted entirely from the Prince Rupert thrift store after the heist of our gear, our first nights on the islands were spent at the mushroompickers’ camp at Mosquito Lake, an eye-opening glimpse into a darker, substance-tainted renegade lifestyle if there ever was one. By this time our rebellious escape to the wild coast was seeming more mainstream by the day, as we encountered the true fringe of the world that helps make the North Coast the vibrant node of culture it has been for the past 10,000 years. There is little that compares to the stomach buzz heightened awareness of setting out on a new adventure. Maybe people do drugs, I have often thought, to try to replicate the hyper-reality and truly deep excitement of human journeys into the unknown.
To say we were unprepared would be generous. Of the four of us only Rowan had any real knowledge of bathymetry, winds, or tides, let alone the potential consequences of combining all three in the wrong measure. Nearly swamped on our first open crossing, we learned quickly why these things called â€œsprayskirtsâ€? were included with our kayaks, and from there proceeded to have just about every mishap in the sea kayak book short of catastrophic capsize. We took shortcuts and stowed our food-filled kayaks away from camp, thinking we were being bear-aware, only to awake to find the kayaks ransacked, hatch seals shredded and much of our food missing as the infamous Burnaby Narrows bruin encountered more idiots. We rounded the northeastern tip of Burnaby Island while the ebb tide played against the southerly swell, and were surprised and very stressed to suddenly find ourselves out of sight from each other for 57
minutes at a time in the troughs of deep, white-topped waves. We even lost a boat one fine, flat calm morning. We still quote Jamie’s “Dudes, there are only three boats on the beach,” wake-up call that morning. A spring tide had very gently reminded us why you always tie up your boats. High water had picked up my kayak, a spare paddle, a pump, a small yellow dry bag, and paddling mitts and carried them away. The miracle of a windless day allowed us to paddle out in three directions in the remaining loyal kayaks and find the errant boat drifting out towards Hecate Strait and tow it home. Another miracle occurred a week or so later when, paddling up the coast I spotted a yellow object on the beach. Upon investigation I found not only my dry bag full of extra clothes but also the spare paddle, pump, and one of the two paddling gloves laid gently on the high spring tide line within a few hundred metres of each 58
image: harry swarth
other, many kilometres from where they had been picked up. If these physical adventures planted the seeds of my love affair with Haida Gwaii, the flora and fauna we encountered fertilized the soil. Daily encounters with some magical beast seemed to be the rule of the place, not the exception. In hindsight, paddling right up to a giant shark fin on the surface of the water might not have been the brightest idea, but we felt invincible by the time we encountered the four-metre shark sleeping on the surface. Nearly as long as the kayaks, it must have been a basking shark, but we didnâ€™t hang around to find out. Minke, humpback and orca crossed our paths regularly, but these giants seemed somehow less so compared to the immoveable and unfathomable giant Sitka Spruce and cedar trees we encountered on-shore. Sea lions are indeed territorial, we learned, after paddling up to investigate one of these giant mammals thrashing a salmon back and forth like a dog shaking a bunny. Noticing us, it slipped beneath the water to come up roaring just metres from our boats. Black bears stalked the shores, while bald eagles dove relentlessly for fish around us, one locking talons with a salmon large enough to prevent it from taking off, and we watched it swim desperately for the shore. We fished as well, and the tale of the giant red snapper we hauled from the depths continues to grow with the telling. That fish, and the salmon and crabs we caught, fed us for days on end, replacing the food lost to the bear. But the treat that really anchored this place in our souls was the Watchmen at Hotspring Island. It was late in the season, and they were packing up for the trip back to town, inviting us to stay with them in the cabin at Hotsprings, and to stay at the tiny Tanu cabin on our way north as well. Our nights at Hotspring Island were a mix of relentless Haida Gwaii rain and ethereal, last-gasp-of-summer nights, where the phosphorescent trails of fish and seals lit up the water underneath our kayaks. I will never forget fishing for gĂşlaa (abalone) with the Watchmen, and the rare taste and texture of this special and vanishing treat, harvested at low tide. They left us a cabbage and a cake, I recall, when they returned to town at the end of their season, both gifts much appreciated, although the cake was definitely a bigger hit. I will also forever be able to close my eyes and see the families of Tanu that filled my imagination during our stay in that ancient, now overgrown village site, children running through the moss, men hauling in fish or building canoes, and women preparing the bountiful harvest of Hecate Strait. At the end of a month of paddling we straggled back to Moresby Camp and into Queen Charlotte, where were taken in by some locals for Thanksgiving dinnerâ€”a feast of local venison and cranberries. In the end, Rowan, Ilja and I boarded the ferry for the mainland, but Jamie stayed on, living out the winter in an old milk van he bought for some ridiculously low amount. In the intervening 28 years I have returned to Haida Gwaii over 15 times, occasionally as a journalist but mostly as a sea-kayak guide taking paddlers through Gwaii Hanaas National Park Reserve in search of the magic that anchored this Kootenay boy to these emerald islands at the Edge of the World.
The Crawl story by Patrick Williston
image: harry swarth
I Through narrowed eyes, face to wind, she stared at the sea and into unknowing. Rain needled her face. This was the first moment in a long time she had considered the future in terms of days rather than minutes or hours, and this on its own was promising. On this tiny vessel she would be guided to a new beginning by her sister, whose confidence she could not understand and did not share. She scowled at the rain and wrapped a damp wool blanket tightly around herself as small waves slopped against the sailboat gliding slowly, purposefully toward a place on the horizon where the cloud was split by a canyon of sunlight. She did not feel well; her sea legs had been lost years ago. Or was it something else? Her sister, dressed in heavy raingear, sat wedged in the stern with the tiller under her arm. She was smiling to herself, a habit she had developed for when the going was rough and she felt assured it would soon get better. She knew how to read the weather and anticipated the warmth of late afternoon sun. She could feel insincerity in the rain. Of course, she could be wrong—it had happened often enough. As for where exactly they were going, she was not concerned. Years of roaming around these parts had provided her with the tools to make the best of nearly every situation, even with another person aboard—which did not necessarily make things easier. “Want to know how I found you?” asked the sister at the helm. The sister in the bow woke from her thoughts. “Yes. How?” “Message came on the wireless.” “You have a cell network?” It seemed impossible. “No, no. ’Course not. Shortwave. I know a techno out here with a radio.
He told me someone named Mole sent an encrypted message. Took him a whole day to figure it out. Said you would be waiting by the narrows beyond the iron cranes. Those cranes were stripped and scavenged years ago, but how would you know? I got the message nearly a month ago and sailed by quite a few times before you showed up. Thought I might have missed you.” “Oh,” she said quietly and examined the white painted circles on her fingertips. Her other hand slipped to her pocket where she felt for the broken plant stem. She twirled its square edges back and forth and looked back at the sea. The future won’t be easy, she thought, but it has possibility.
II “Mole!” Drenched in sweat and misery, he stomped his boot on the floor. “Get up here you useless parasite!” He stomped again. It shook the windows and caused a cup to jump from the table, its contents spilling across the floor. “Somebody get that useless sweeper up here,” he growled and waved a revolver haphazardly around the room, causing everyone to stir. Bullet holes in the ceiling gave the gesture authenticity. Only last year one of his stray bullets had taken his eldest daughter, an accident that had rendered immutable his self-loathing. Dank air swirled, a grotesque mist of stale sweat, bush beer, and filth. A man raised himself unsteadily from the carcass of a couch and lurched toward the door, his hand wrapped in a blood-caked cloth. The screen slammed behind him as he stumbled into the sunlight and down the stairs to the small, wooden door set in the foundation of the house. He knocked on the door of the crawl. A youth appeared, squatted on his haunches. “Yes?” said the youth. “He wants you,” replied the bleeding man, and turned and lumbered toward the nearby forest. The youth ducked back inside the crawl and reappeared with a pail, some rags and a coarse brush. He set the pail down, squinted at the sun, then turned to the towering mountain beyond the trees—Stekyoden, the mountain that stands alone—black and brooding, and magnificent. He brushed the brown hair from his eyes. Above his lip he wore a trimmed moustache—an effort to obscure the appearance of his relatively few years, though it did the opposite and made him seem even younger. Taking the pail, he straightened and limped up the stairs, knocking quietly on the screen. “In!” yelled the stomper. “Get in here and clean this disgusting cesspit.” “Yes,” Mole replied, and he went to work, starting with the bathroom, which he knew would be the worst. It was.
III “You think I’ve got it made, don’t you?” Mole knew this to be a rhetorical question and did not answer. He was used to rambling soliloquies from his houselord, though rarely were
they delivered this sober. “Truth is, we’re all just a little bit broken. Some more than others, of course. It may not look like it, but I’ve got my problems. Lots of people around here want to get rid of me. And who am I suppose to complain to? I’m complaining to you, Mole. You should take this as a compliment. But unlike you, I’ve sowed seeds. Lots of them. When I’m gone, you’ll still find my shadows everywhere. You’re never going to have that, Mole, you poor, miserable sweeper. “You think your mama was the only one who wanted to rebuild the hanging bridge and unite the villages? Don’t look so surprised.” He looked carefully at the sweeper. “And you are going to help me, Mole. You’re going to make me that bridge.” The houselord nodded, cradling his temple in an outspread hand. Temporarily lost in thought, he swept crusted rheum from the corner of his eye. “It’s not time for that right now,” he said quietly to himself. “We have certain challenges ahead of us.” Mole listened intently, leaning on his good leg and giving his wounded foot a rest. This was the first he had heard about the houselord’s ambitions. Mole had never heard him speak about rebuilding the bridge—that kind of plan was uncharacteristically farsighted. What would be the implications? And what were the challenges that were coming? “Go, get your accordion. I’m feeling sad right now,” the houselord said after a thoughtful pause. “Go get your accordion and play us something.” Mole wrung his rag into the pail. The place still stank. It was not possible to remove with a damp rag the stench of years of desecration, not from punky particleboard and sodden gyproc, but at least now it was possible to recognize the wood pattern in the laminate floor. He took his cleaning things with him outside, dumped the pail at the forest edge, and went to the crawl to get his accordion. On his way back out, he grabbed a handful of mint leaves and stuffed them in his shirt pocket—something to mask the stench of the main floor. From his mother, before she was killed, Mole had learned the art of pottery. She also taught him reading and mathematics, rudimentary dentistry and enough techno to be considered both dangerous and useful. About his knowledge of techno, he told no one. There is no question that the other gifts had kept him alive. The accordion he had learned on his own, and it is likely that this had kept a bullet from his hand, and from his head. When a paranoid houselord with a penchant for guns learns to appreciate the aspirated lament of an accordion, he shoots the foot. A stool had been set in front of the kitchen counter and Mole made his way through the gathered mob, children and adults in varying disrepair. He sat down and closed his eyes, hoping for his nervousness to dissipate. The crowd took this as a sign to hush and the room grew quiet. He played the traditional tunes of the region, old songs about cars and towns, things that hadn’t existed for decades. The songs had outlived their subjects, becoming as much a part of the land as the black mountain and dark forest. At times, people furtively sang along. Other tunes, he played alone. His last was a song he rarely played, Mari’s Dirge, a tune Mole had written for his mother after she had died. It started soft and low, the notes
telling of the famine years and early re-establishment of the village. It soared as it celebrated his mother’s exploits as clan leader and her taming of the houselords long ago. Mole looked confidently over the audience. He was temporarily in control but he knew he was pushing his luck—the houselord could end the tune, or his life for that matter, at any moment. He noticed someone watching him from the doorway—a woman, maybe 10 or so years older than him. She was not from the village; she belonged to the coastal clans. Strong and sinewy, distilled by hunger and hardship, her dark hair was woven in a way that told of another place. She had been brought to the village a few years ago. Mole had never spoken a word to her; it was forbidden of sweepers or anyone living in a crawl. She watched him with eyes the colour of split cedar. She was clearly indifferent that her unguarded attention might cost their lives. The music spun toward hopelessness, a crushing phrase repeated over and over, first loud and then soft. Here were the years of grieving Mole endured. This went on for a long time, and several in the audience shed tears. Finally the song ended with a long, slow hiss, as the accordion bellows were brought to a lasting close. Mole sat for a moment examining the exfoliated flooring. He waited—perhaps for a bullet. The houselord sat back in the big chair, hands folded behind his head, and stared wistfully at a constellation of ceiling mold in rare contentment. Mole got up off the stool, the accordion still strapped to his chest, and stepped lightly toward the door. The crowd gently parted. At the door, he felt the brush of skin on his forearm—how rare the touch of another’s skin! With a darting glance he saw the coastal woman look away, her lips drawing a scarcely perceptible breath. Mole crossed the threshold, hurried down the stairs into the darkness and dove into the safety of the crawl, his mind whirling. Later, he lay awake staring at the plastic sheeting and floor joists just above his head—only these separated him from the woman upstairs.
IV Mole kept out of sight for several days. He busied himself in the crawl, organizing and reorganizing his few belongings: a small number of books, his tools for pottery and dentistry, the accordion, bundles of mint and other dried herbs, and his small assemblage of rudimentary techno that he kept well hidden in a hollow dug into the dirt floor. There were three solar cells, an assortment of batteries, a finicky wireless, headphones, coils of wire and coaxial cable, a dynamo, a string of LEDs, and a container of salvaged odds and ends. His was not a proper techno lab, but it was more than anyone else had in the village, at least as far as he knew. He swept the dirt floor, and in an unexplainable outburst of domesticity, painted white the plastic sheeting that covered the joists and insulation. For paint he mixed egg whites and water with minerals he normally saved for pottery. It had an immediate effect on the crawl, making it appear clean and bright—a remarkable transformation for a soil hovel completely lacking windows. That night he stayed up late listening to the wireless. Skirmishes were being reported inland—it was possible that they would soon reach the 63
village. He could faintly smell the smoke of distant fires. This was the challenge that the houselord had mentioned—a raid. In the smallest hours of night he heard a rustling at the door and he hurried to conceal his techno. Then he crept to door of the crawl with an oil lamp. It was the woman from the doorway. “Come in, quickly,” he beckoned, and she ducked into the crawl. He gently closed the door behind. Trembling, he studied her face in the dim light of the lamp. Her steady eyes looked straight into his. The encounter was unthinkable, and yet she was all he had thought about for days. She reached out and took his hands and brought him toward her.
V As they lay nested in the crawl, she looked around the tidy space with appreciation. It smelled of mint. Her hand strayed to the ceiling to touch the shiny white plastic. Her curiosity was recorded in delicate fingerprints—the paint had not yet dried. She whispered, “I must go.” “Yes,” replied Mole. “But where? You can’t stay in the village. You should go soon—they won’t hunt for you while there’s risk of a raid.” “I’ll head for the coast,” she said. “Tonight. I know it’s far and it’s been a long time since I was last there, but I still remember the way. My clan is there. At this time of year my family fished for crabs at the narrows by the iron cranes. I’ll go there. When I was taken in the raids, my mother and sister had been at sea. Maybe they’re still alive. If they are, they’ll find me.” She paused and looked down for a moment. “But what about you? When they see that I’m gone, will he come for you?” “He might, but I don’t think so. He could have gotten rid of me a long time ago. He has something else in mind.” “Come with me.” “I can’t. My foot—it’s impossible. There’s no way I can cover ground like you can. I can’t even make it across the river.“ “I can help you. Please come,” she pleaded. All that he wanted was to follow this woman wherever she was going, and yet he invented a reason to stay. “This village, these people—these are my people,” he said. “We’re waiting for the time to call my mother’s clan. It could be soon. Change is coming. I can’t leave.” “Of course,” she said, drawing a breath. “You’re needed here.” She placed her hands on his face and kissed him, marking his memory with a deep and lasting wound. Tears moistened their lips. Then she pushed him away and crept from the crawl, pausing at the door to take a handful of mint that she placed in her pocket.
Patrick Williston lives in Smithers in a mountainside home with a dark and spidery crawl space. When days are longer, you will find him and his family gunkholing around the Chatham Sea in an old sailboat. 64
I dreamt you were a lemur. And I loved you.
I loved your furry little ears and your wet lemur nose. Your orange eyes and your rough, black hand, wrapped around my index finger—I loved them too. Because you’re mine. We slept together in this dream. You were cuddled up in my arms, your soft little sighs waking me up just enough to smile and slip back into sleep. Your fur warm against my side. The mat on the floor firm, the walls thin and the sounds of the night flickering from beyond. In the morning, we ate breakfast. Mine was a bitter coffee and sweet flatbread. Yours was tamarind leaves and a mango. After breakfast, we went outside. When you jumped out of my arms and did your funny little sideways hopping run towards the road, a battered old truck careening towards you, I called you back—and you came. And I loved you. You’re not a lemur, of course. And I love you. — Matt J. Simmons
Our first annual, Beginnings, is a collection of northern BC stories & images.