leaving Stoningham highlands

10 12 2008

  A long while ago I was wondering about the Inuit people, their incredible hardiness,endurance and adaptability in what has to be amongst the toughest climates on this planet. Evaluated in terms of how rapidly the climate will kill someone who is untrained to it, the arctic climate has to be the most severe. These people’s ancestors at some distant time crossed the Bering Strait and settled on the other side.There can be no doubt that they were trained to this climate or they would have perished the first winter. But they didn’t. They made shelters out of ice.Who amongst us would have dreamed of keeping warm in ice? “Quick, come into the refrigerator, it’s warmer in here.” Amazing. Truly amazing! And they survived by hunting with primitive stone tools amongst predators who were hunting them.

But at a certain time of every fall many of the animals they relied on marched determinedly south to easier latitudes where wetness wasn’t solid. But the Inuit people didn’t follow them. Why? Why wouldn’t you follow your food into warmer latitudes where there was daylight?

It was many years after moving into the Rocky Mountains I came to understand that land is not a thing . Rather that it lives and has a consciousness of some sorts and that consciousness includes understandings with the creatures that inhabit it-a consciousness that says in effect something like “If you are strong enough,if you are brave enough, if you are sufficiently obdurate, if you are sufficiently sensitive, if your spirit is attuned to me and you stay here through the terrible trials of winter weather I will show you unearthly beauties that will fill you with, adoration, love and joy. But if you do not meet those qualifications you should  move south because i might well kill you.

How did I discover that? In 1966 I left California at the end of two years writing fellowships at Stanford, thinking of looking at Canada before returning to Europe. But there was a deep hunger for land that was deepening in me and and In B.C., at that time land was incredibly cheap in comparison with any other place I had found. I and my partner decided to go land shopping and bought an old GMC pickup with a tiny camper and we set off. On the map I scribed a large circle representing a reasonable days journey from Vancouver. Above it to the north I scribed an east/west isobar line representing the maximum climatic conditions I was prepared to live with. In the east of the big circle I scribed another iso-barometric line where it seemed that snow was too deep and winter conditions generally to severe to be reasonable. Then, inside those parameters I drew smaller circles around the towns representing about an hours drive because we would need provision car parts etc. Then we began our land search within the smaller circles that had about a forty five mile radius.. Even within my tiny budget there were many pieces of land available and almost every realtor we discussed them with asked the same question-“Why do you want to be so far out in the country—there’s no roads, electricity, phone etc…let me show you something nearer to town”.

In one of the places we went looking for was a listed120 acres going for three thousand dollars. It was very remote along an old logging road.There were no habitations within two kilometers. We became lost and instead of finding the 120 acres pushed  through dense bush that had grown over another logging road and stumbled upon the wreckage of an old settlers home built sometime around 1917 and abandoned thirty five years ago when the homesteader found life there too tough and moved to the little town twelve kilometers down the mountain.The roof was a ruin and the rain had soaked what remained of the floors after scavengers had salvaged them. As a result the remaining floorboards had reared up covered in brick-dust and chips and rat-shit from the thirty or more packrats that had moved in permanently.Trees had grown right through the unglazed windows and back out through the roof. There was no insulation in any of the walls which might explain why he moved out ,and he was a very amateur carpenter in the first place. Adjacent , five feet away there was the ruin of a twelve foot by eight log cabin whose bottom three logs had rotted causing the entire cabin to tilt at an angle of thirty or so degrees.Twenty feet away gurgled a pretty little creek. The water was cool and clean and beautiful to drink. It was summertime and the thimbleberry and undergrowth was full of mosquitoes. If I’d had a lick of common sense I would have walked away forever. But a strange thing happened to me. As I pushed my way through the overgrown trails near the house I had a sudden and strange feeling of psychedelic intensity. I suddenly felt sure that this was the place where I was going to die. Adrenaline seared through my body followed by stark fear because because of the intensity of the feeling and I didn’t know if I was going to die right there and then. I stood there a long time, swatting at the hoards of mosquitoes,utterly transfixed by my terror. Later I went  to the nearby little town and sought out the rancher who owned the property and presently negotiated a deal for forty three acres including the old house wreck and the swamp and spring from which the creek resurfaced. Later in this blog I will deal with those years between then and now but I am recording it here for the first time because I now realize that at that time the land was talking to me with those promises of sublime  beauty; and the warnings of acute suffering, loneliness and privation.


Meanwhile this contemporary sweet summer  passed as all sweet summers—too fast, too short and littered as usual with with missed opportunities. Times were marked by different flowers, for over the years I have come to know almost to a day which phase of the seasons it is from the colours of the flowers scattered among the lush green of spring grass; first the yellows-celandines and then the ecstasy of dandelions-my favourite flowers.These coincided with the frog’s first scraping love songs and even though there was still snow almost everywhere and most of the pond was still iced, I knew the hard times were over.This yellow phase was followed by the white period—Alaska daisy and later in summer the blue period. Then the frogs stopped singing. In all my years I never recorded the last day they sang and always the first. I am so hooked on novelty each year that I stop attending to the messengers until I realize they have gone. Sic transit gloria mundae.

Then all too soon another messenger arrived, on time as usual ,and I looked up from my busyness to see a swatch of yellow among the birch’s green foliage and realized the soul stunning beauty of Fall was about to transform the world again. And here, for me lies one of the irresistible beauties of Canada—the strength of change where virtually every day is different and if one is attentive and sensitive enough the day of the month can be told as accurately as by calender-for each day’s smell sight and sound is different.And here is the old cabin today.More later. Love and peace.Laurie


house summer 2008 076




One response

12 12 2008
Cathryn Rankin

Lovely to read your evocative flowing words bringing powerful memories & images ~ & good to get the history of the part of your journey in this area~

Just finished 4 horrendous days of rehearsals & 2 recitals in my 2 schools- while fighting mega cold; 1 week left before holidays; can’t afford to go to Mexico, but hope to keep working on building massage practice (need to go talk to Docs) & am practising in our 5-piece band… have a gig New Years at Shuswap Lake Estates
Happy travels
love Cathryn

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