Road trip diary (#3)

After a third day of driving eastward through the prairie landscape, now clothed in the warm colours of autumn, and under endlessly interesting clouds, we arrived in Winnipeg late afternoon Wednesday to a warm welcome at friend Bonnie Isaak’s house. This will be our base while here. We’ve known Bonnie since the beginning of both our marriages, and even earlier for H. and Bonnie’s late husband John. We settled our things into our room and then went to other friends for a delicious supper and catch-up. Life is packed with stories, and many get told in reunion visits!

Thursday, H. spent the day with his cousin, whom he calls his adopted brother, since they’re the only two of their respective Paraguay families who live in Canada. He made chipa — a cheesy Paraguayan biscuit  — with the cousin’s wife. From my sampling later, I can state that they turned out well. (H. is the chipa maker in our household.)

In the meanwhile, I had tea with friend Ruth and then headed to the MB Study Centre, needing to check the archives for several items related to another writing project I’m doing. I managed to get confused at Osborne’s Confusion Corner, but eventually got out of it and down Pembina, only to find Taylor blocked off by road repair. The streets are full of it. The old saw about Winnipeg having only two seasons — winter and road construction — obviously still holds. I found what I was looking for, or better said, the archivist/director found the papers, and thank goodness for copy machines, because conversations with former colleagues prevented my studying the page closely; I’ll do it later, at home.

Then it was off to the Turnstone Press offices. I remembered my way into the maze of one-way streets that is the Exchange District and managed to find a parking spot close by the Artspace building. Hugs and business chat with Jamis and Melissa. Publishing is a tough business nowadays — do we value books as much as we used to? — but Turnstone keeps at it, enticing readers with several new enticements every publishing season.

Another delicious supper, at the cousin’s, and that wrapped the day! Before shutting my  eyes, I read at Sacred Space and the text was the one in which Jesus sends his disciples out to tell good news. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” Peace to the houses we entered today, and will enter tomorrow and following!

Road trip diary (#2)

Tuesday, October 1. Regina, Saskatchewan

After two days of driving we’ve arrived in Regina for the night. Monday, the highway through the mountains was clear in spite of the weekend storm — “historic” for September — that swept into southwestern Alberta, and we travelled well. After Golden, where the Rockies are especially large and majestic, the snow had given them an austere and hoary look and the pine forests were snow-iced too; it seemed Christmasy. I’d anticipated, ever since planning this trip, our happy emergence out of the mountains into the foothills, and there it was, the broad rolling terrain and the big sky, but I’d not anticipated winter upon it. Not now! Autumn yellow trees poking out of snow just looked odd.

IMG_7323We had supper and stayed the night with my brother John and wife Barb at their acreage in Water Valley. Their house backs onto pines, and these too were beautifully hung with snow, and being in the country it was a very dark and quiet night. John had a wood fire going while we caught up on our respective lives and health and families and also reminisced about some incidents during our childhood in Linden. He recalled how he and other boys ran down the hill into the valley to see the horrible accident that befell two men working on storm sewer installation, when the earth caved in and buried them. For him, the watching of efforts to dig them out, remains a vivid memory, but I think of the families to whom these men belonged (strangers to the community). That day must have been world-changing for them.

Today — Tuesday —  we drove in white for some hours, eastward through Alberta, the sky white, the earth white, and for some time into fog as well, but eventually the aspect of the earth changed and by the time we reached Moose Jaw, it was all the expected prairie autumn tones of early October, and that prairie sky loaded with clouds in a great variety of blue and grey, and the feeling I was feeling was familiarity and it was a very good feeling indeed.

I’ve been reading, when it’s not my turn at the wheel, The Art of Leaving by Ayelet Tsabari. It’s a memoir in essays by an Israeli woman of Yemeni background who leaves her home in Tel Aviv for travel and work in a great many places, and for a great many relationships, undone it seems by the death of her beloved father when she was a girl. “[L]eaving is the only thing I know how to do,” she says at one point, “…the ritual of packing up, throwing out or giving away the little I have, packing and taking off.” Tsabari is an excellent writer, but I’m showing my age I suppose if I say that I’m reading her restlessness with a kind of impatient ache on her behalf. But I’ve got half the book to go and lots can happen yet.

Saturday night, before the trip, I stayed up late to finish Michael Crummey’s Sweetland. I know, I know, it’s not his most recent, shortlisted for the Giller, but it’s the one I was reading. And it’s very good, and I had to think, in comparison to Tsabari’s experience, that novel could be subtitled “the art of staying.” The character Sweetland, who’s always lived on the small island off Newfoundland with the same name as his, except for a brief foray for work in Toronto, stubbornly resists the government’s wish to re-locate him to the mainland, along with the island’s other remaining residents. I’m fascinated by the idea of living in the same place all one’s life, which I myself will never experience. But I know some who have and I should probe this with them.

Off and on I keep thinking too about the recent death of Andris Taskans, founder and long-time editor of Prairie Fire. The arts community of Winnipeg is in shock and grief. He was such a vital part of it. I claim no close friendship with Andris, though we knew one another, but I felt his encouragement and support for he published a number of my stories over the years, and I sensed his kindly character in our various encounters.

Well, nearly done this ramble, diary dear, but what a surprise when we were “seeking” for CBC in Saskatchewan and the very first thing we heard when we found it was the name “Dave Schwab” and sure enough, the Dave Schwab we know, describing his harrowing encounter with a bear.  

Road trip diary (# 1)

Sunday, Sept. 29. Merritt, B.C.

I want to keep a bit of a diary of the road trip, destination Winnipeg, for the launch of All That Belongs, and after that, on the homeward journey, me and the book at several stops. My blog readers, if interested, are welcome to follow, but if not — no problem either, for I’ll never know!

My copies of the book arrived Friday. Strange, it was, holding the novel as object. I was surprised by its plumpness; in my mind, the story is a relatively slender thing. Today it got its public initiation, at the fiction stage of the Word Vancouver Festival, where I read in a slot called “Complexities and Complications,” together with screenwriter Ken Hegan, currently the Vancouver library writer-in-residence, and Alex Leslie, author of We All Need to Eat, a poetic collection of linked stories. Our moderator was the vivacious writer Maureen Medved.

The reading went well, I think, the audience small but fine. Our discussion after we each presented concerned the complexities of the writing endeavour. Asked for advice for writers, Ken spoke of persistence and Alex spoke of focusing on one’s own necessary work, not drawn off by what others are doing. Since we’d run out of time, I agreed with both!

That done, satisfied with the event, and grateful, I took the sky train and bus back to Tsawwassen, By 5 p.m. H. and I were on the road, rounding Vancouver to the # 1 and on through the Fraser Valley with its rich banquet-table spread of farms, looking prosperous under clear skies. Passing Chilliwack, I thought, as I always do when I pass Chilliwack, that I might have grown up there, for Dad’s family moved there after he’d gone off to college, and when he married, he and Mom lived there a while too, until he was asked to return to Gem, Alberta, where he’d grown up, to teach in a winter Bible school. Next came the invitation to pastor a church in Linden, another small Alberta community. So we never got back to Chilliwack. But one or two twists otherwise, and I could have grown up there instead of where I did. If so, would I be a different person than I am now? (One can play this game endlessly with history, personal or otherwise, of course.)

Through Hope, the mountains looming too near for my taste. Casting us in shadow. Residents may find them a comfort and shelter, I suppose, but prairie born and raised, they seem vaguely oppressive to me. But then we rounded a curve and the view opened to a panorama of peaks on which the setting sun was glowing pink, the most glorious sight of the day. A gift.

An hour on the Coquihalla, up to Merritt, in the dark by now but the road clear, and here we are, tired and ready for bed in a room at the Ramada. We tuned into the weather channel and it looks like we’ll be driving into lots of snow. But we’ve made a small dent in the journey and tomorrow will be its own day, no point worrying about conditions now.