Across the Country

Phew! Since I last blogged, a long winter finally turned into spring and I taught my first creative writing course in short fiction at the University of Guelph. I can't rave enough about my students; an intelligent, engaged group with diverse ideas and literary interests. And then, while the buds on Toronto's trees were only just beginning to turn into leaves, I escaped the city for Nelson, BC.

When you live in Vancouver — as I did, for six years — you hear a lot about Nelson. You hear that it's beautiful, tucked away in the Selkirk mountains, on the shores of Kootenay lake. You hear that an awful lot of hippies live there, aging draft dodgers alongside younger legions of dreadlocked, barefoot, patchouli-wearers. And you hear about the vast quantities of BC bud they grow there. I'm told it's pretty potent.

I drove across the country in May, four of us squashed into my small, 15-year-old Honda. My favourite part of the trip involved discovering Northern Ontario: Manitoulin Island, Lake Superior, Quetico Provincial Park. There was still ice on Lake Superior; last winter was the first time since weather records have been kept that the whole lake froze. It's one of the wildest and loneliest places I've ever been: big trees, big rocks, big lakes, few people. "I feel as though I finally understand Canada," I said. And what I meant was that the iconic Canadiana (e.g, Group of Seven paintings) I'd disdained growing up suddenly seemed unique and profound. A relevatory experience.

It rained a lot, and sometimes that rain turned into snow and we decided to forego camping. Outside Thunder Bay, we tried to stay at a hostel that was one part the old Woodlands Institution and three parts The Shining. As we approached the hostel, we heard gunshots. The place was full of dusty old paperbacks, photo albums, family records, stuffed owls, gargoyles. It was deserted except for an old drunk sobbing alone on a couch, a young Asian man who seemed to be running the place in the owner's absence, and a cat with a pus-filled eye. After the old drunk wouldn't stop harrassing us, we got our money back and fled to a motel.

In Winnipeg, at the Forks, the four of us lay down on the grass and took a group nap. Then we had a group hug. Two of our friends were flying back to Toronto while Leesa and I continued on to BC. It was a homecoming for Leesa, who's from Cranbrook, and who had just been been hired by Selkirk College to teach creative writing in Castelgar and Nelson.

On our last night camping together, we drove 20 km up an old logging road to reach Lussier Hot Springs —natural hot mineral pools deep in the mountains, beside a river. After spending a few days in Cranbrook and the east Kootenays meeting Leesa's family, I drove west through the mountains to Nelson, alone for the first time in weeks.

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