Yes, the road.

Yes, the road.
Eagle Nest, New Mexico. “People like to drive because driving is actually and symbolically an almost perfect mechanism for escape…there is probably no human being who does not have troubles, real or imagined, from which he at times feels the need to flee.” George R. Stewart.


My photo
Brooklin, Maine, United States
We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and a 1986 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of 1997 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 28 years--we're recycling. I've published 3 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), THE O'BRIENS (2012), and CARRY ME (2016). Also 2 short story collections: NIGHT DRIVING(1987) and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). More of my literary life is at I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I'm an adjunct professor at Colorado College and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. In 2015-16 I was a Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Autoliterate office is in Car Talk Plaza in Harvard Square, 2 floors above Dewey Cheatem & Howe. SUBSCRIBE TO THE AUTOLITERATE DAILY EMAIL by hitting the button to the right.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Alberta Is More Than Tar Sands

Most Mainers know only 2 things about Alberta.
1) the noxious Alberta tar sands will soon be slithering through the Montreal-to-Portland pipeline
2)strong cold NW winds--infamous Alberta Clippers--come out of there.
               So I'm reposting an AL journal entry from a couple of years back. I  did a lot of my growing-up in Alberta and was privileged to know amazing people there--e.g., Sid Marty; Priscilla Bruised Head, from Stand Off; Harold Healey, the wise man from the Blood; the painter Alex Emond; trail builder Toby Clark; Susan Richardson playing Bach; meeting Dan Weasel Moccasin; the author & historian Jon Whyte--just to name a few. The whole tribe of Banff hippies. Writers met over the years at Banff Centre...Anne Carson reading her Short Talks then swimming laps in the Banff pool while I read her Kinds of Water. Alistair Macleod reading The Closing Down of Summer late one autumn to a bunch of us sitting on the gallery floor. Pow Wows at Head-Smashed-In. Burning sweetgrass in a Chevy hubcap on the stove in Priscilla Bruised Head's kitchen, at Stand Off.  The drummers and singers of the Kai Nai and Pikunni. Ranchers in the foothills, cowboys like Sid Cunningham and Jack Gill, the beer parlours in Sundre and Caroline. Hiking everywhere and running whitewater in green rivers: Athabaska, the Bow... driving over Bow Summit in a snowstorm, and the road from Longview to Pincher Creek and the Crowsnest highway....finding Billy Lillis's grave at Medicine Hat...yikes, I'm getting all nostalgic here, and AL is not to be a blog about nostalgia, a tedious virus which plagues the old car/truck world. Here at AL we like the here and now. We like seeing things clearly, or the illusion of. Maybe what's happening, as the ending of my current novel-in-progress floats like a very dim mirage on my authorly horizon, part of my brain is bending back to Alberta, maybe the first hint of another novel lurking, somewhere...anyway, as Ian Tyson noted, weather's good there in the fall....
Four strong winds that blow lonely, etc. Thanks to Ian Tyson for the song, and Neil Young for the versions he's delivered over the years. I'm on the road in Alberta, Canada. Last night at WriterFest, the book festival in Calgary, I was lucky enough to read to an SRO crowd of booklovers at the Vertigo Theatre, on a powerful list with Wayne Johnston, Elizabeth Hay, Johanna Skibsrud and Anita Rau Badami.  We were introduced by Calgary's brilliant mayor, Naheed Nenshi, a reader/politician...really and truly. He says so, anyway. And I believe.
            Did an another event at Audrey's Books in Edmonton tonight.
           But what I've really been doing is driving a lot, and getting out and walking whenever I can.... wishing to reconnect with this powerful Alberta landscape that meant so much to me as a young man. Something about October out here: when I worked on a wheat farm October meant the harvest was nearly over and we could think about where we were going to head for to spend the money we'd been saving up all the summer.
      Aspens sharp yellow and shivering in the October winds, all along the foothills...I'm trying to write this post in 10 minutes before going off to dinner and the bookstore reading, so I think I'll just put up a couple of photographs from this week, and write more about context, along with some personal history, when I have a little more time.
          Strands of my own personal connections to Alberta: When I was 18 I came out west on my own steam and found a job as a hand on a cattle ranch in the Rocky Mountain foothills. I ended up going back for another season, and learned there most of what I know about horses and cattle, hayfarming and fence mending and small town beer parlours. I also learned just what I could and couldn't do on my own. The photo above was taken near Caroline, Alberta a couple miles from the GH Ranch, where I worked. Fall roundup was happening. I remember how tough it was  working cattle in those aspen groves: not exactly the wide open range. But the forest is good cattle browse, and our cows were certainly free-range, and organic as hell.
             Another Alberta connect for me: I put in time on a crew building and rebuilding hiking trails in the Rockies. This week I hiked from lake Louise to Lake Agnes on a trail we rebuilt in the mid-eighties. I remember hiking up that trail with Toby Clark, both of us toting Swedish rock drills on our shoulder.
            No rock drills, mattocks, and helicopters this time. No grizzlies, either. This photo is moi, up at Lake Agnes.

Below: Lake Louise was looking like, well, like Lake Louise. i.e., like nowhere else.

Driving west on the Trans Canada, that first glimpse of Castle Mountain is always a thrill:

Today the wind was blowing maybe 20 knots NW, (ref. Ian Tyson: those winds sure can blow cold/ way out there). Classic Alberta autumn, and the sky was mostly clear. Down south the aspens were still blazing yellow but closer to Edmonton things were starting to look bare. I stopped at Rocky Mountain House, and walked the bank of the North Saskatchewan River, and through the site of the 19th century Hudson's Bay Co. (and Northwest Company) fur trading posts. I think the No. Saskatchewan may be the most beautiful river on the continent.
       Back in in southern Alberta, on the Stoney Reserve:

  Looking forward to heading back to Banff tomorrow: dinner with old friends, then another event at WordFest in Calgary on Saturday.

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