So far, so Canadian.
Hopefully I have been able to put a few revealing scratches into the surface of What It Is Like Up Yukon. And they are only scratches because the Yukon-ness of Yukon runs deep and wide. Turning glimpses into gazes is ongoing work. At the same time, for those who have never been to Canada, especially west of the Rockies, most of my descriptions and commentaries have perhaps addressed aspects that were within the realm of the expected.
Now I am back in Ashcroft, in Sun Country BC, and I am savouring a landscape and a climate that is far from many people’s stereotype of Canada. By the end of this post readers will be aware of circumstances that make this a short update. So I will just run through an improvised impressionistic list of coming back here for my third visit (I spent nearly 2 months here in 2007 and much of my book is based on events here).
baked pyramids and cones of dunes overlapping like mountains in Chinese paintings…wetter than usual Spring makes a bottle-green sheen on the hills and the dark pink dunes…tall, plump sage brush bushes pump out an iced matt blue backdrop offset by pale yellow mustard flower banks…all clouds must remain very high and present themselves in clean white cotton at all times or just disappear and leave the impossible blues to get on with it…railtracks (big but dwarfed by the landscape) sandwich the main part of the small township…I sleep under a single sheet in the warm night and am woken up by blaring freight train engines (they have to bellow twice into the darkness when approaching a level crossing) but am immediately lulled back into slumber by the gentle, unhurried rumble-rock of the mile and a half long freight liners, supplemented by the electronic flatlining chants of the crickets…intricate plateau shelves of mesa separate the dirt-dunes, covered with sock-torturing prickly pear cacti, juniper, bunny-bush and sun-scented sage…roadrunner quail (a.k.a. chuckers) and gophers stitch the gullies and flats with holes and in-and-out scamperings…rattlesnakes stay shy but are there, likewise bull snakes, coyote, deer, horses, black bears…the land is dry but try saying the word ‘arid’ to the churning Thompson River that gives a sinuous spinal column to the whole wide valley…Gold Rush service station history idles in artefacts and a trove of a museum, and in the corner of the eye a much more ancient First Nations presence flickers on at a mingling point of various Secwepemculecw (Sushwap) bands, particularly the Bonapartes…the rocks and willows and cottonwoods of the Slough (‘slew’) are cradled in an amphitheatre of sculpted hoodoos, turrets and buttresses of eroding clay…on the hills the pine-beetles’ toll makes dark brown reading, but in the gardens the wealth of greenery and blossom and fruit and berries startles and smiles…businesses come and go and people come and go and community persists and makes itself felt to the awake being, and as in my references to Whitehorse and the scattered enclaves in Yukon, it is the warmth and openness of the people that completes the sense of connection…oh, and one day the Ashcroft Opera House will rise again!
There are many more aspects of the township and the surrounding area that deserve mention, but I am only here for a short time and these are the impressions that have surfaced for me in a couple of days. There’s a strong arts community here too (if you check out just one check out the website of Royden Josephson). And if you stay anywhere, stay at the Blue Sage b’n b. Plugs over!
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My re-connection with, and remembrance of, all things Ashcroft, has been curtailed by news from home in England. I had planned to explore the Okanagan Valley, and spend some nights in the extreme splendour of Valhalla National Park in the Slocan Valley, visit friends in San Francisco, and finish up back at Gabriola (with a climb of the Golden Hinde, the highest peak on Vanvouver Isalnd, as a finale to the trip)
My Mum has Alzheimers Disease, amongst other ailments, and there has been a sudden and serious deterioration for her. No need for details, but the upshot is that I am heading back to England pretty much immediately to be with my sister, my Dad and my son and the family.
I am thinking of my Mum’s life as a river. For 87 years the river has laid down a bed of experiences, occasions, events, unhappinesses, comforts. It has worn and sculpted banks of memories and interactions with the world. For better and for worse that river has teemed with life. Now dementia has made that flowing water crystal clear and sterile and devoid of nourishment. It is as if the water is still coursing down stream, but not touching the banks or the bed, not connecting with the past, the present or the future.
It has been a long process, but to witness the outcome is still tough stuff in the moment. That’s for the rest of us…what is it like for her?
We sing about “precious memories”, but memory is no more resilient than a heart or a tendon. Luxuriate in, and celebrate memory…make it into a material that works for you and connects you to the right, compassionate, empathetic stuff…make yourself vulnerable and stupid through it as well (as I do in this blog): emotional truth is more important than factual recording.
I am definitely continuing with this blog, so please do subscribe, comment, email etc etc…I really enjoy writing it and the interactions it has led to have been truly wonderful. Clearly the focus on BC, Yukon and Alaska will shift (but will still be very present – I’ll be back, he says in best Arnie voice) but I shall scribble away about all sorts, including trying to get published and all points between here and somewhere funny, stimulating, communicative, connective.