I’m in the Peace!
Me at Fort St. John viewpoint in front of the Peace River Photo credit: Roland Kokke
Last Saturday, I picked Roland up at the Prince George airport (his flight an hour late because of low-hanging fog) and we headed north. First, we stopped at Huble House, on the Fraser, near its northernmost bend. It’s a beautiful historic site, and we caught it on a gorgeous fall day, warm enough for a picnic.
That seems remarkable to me now, because this morning Fort St. John was blanketed in snow, cars careening, and my little ice scraper virtually useless. The temperature remains well below zero, but the sky is clearing now, at the end of the day. Roland has just left to drive back to the viewpoint over the river, for more photos. Perhaps I’ll post one here a bit later on.
Last Saturday, after our picnic, we drove to Dawson Creek, a town that I think I had vaguely confused with Dawson City, even though I knew it wasn’t. (I probably shouldn’t admit to such ignorance.)We enjoyed finding ourselves at Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, and driving in we saw two moose. We stayed at a Bed & Breakfast outside of Dawson Creek on the way to Grande Prairie on Swan Lake. Rising Moon, it’s called. An idyllic interlude! I recommend it to anyone coming up this way. Sadly, though, we had timed our visit for Sunday and Monday, and the local museums and galleries were closed. And tragically, Dawson Creek’s landmark, the Alaska Hotel, burned down a few weeks ago. We stood and gazed at the fenced-off ruins, where a bulldozer was hard at work. We did happen upon the Sunday entertainment in the mall parking lot: autocross. A course was laid out with orange cones and cars of all sorts lined up to drive it in the shortest time. People had backed up their pick-up trucks to make comfortable viewing areas, and we watched for a good while. It was fun.
While we were there, I went into Mark’s Work Wearhouse (which I notice is trying on the cooler name, Mark’s) and bought a winter coat. Just in time! Saturday picnic notwithstanding, I was grateful for that coat within twenty-four hours. And I was certainly grateful for it today. I bought a hat too, on Tuesday at the store in the Fort St. John Cultural Centre. Boots are next.
On Sunday, we drove here, to Fort St. John, and we took the long way round, the more picturesque way, detouring to see the WAC Bennett Dam. The whole drive was spectacular, and it gradually came home to me that the rivers were running east, not west. We had passed through the Rockies, crossed over. (Actually, we did that on Saturday.) I am in a new (to me)landscape where the rivers run east, not west. I stare at them, puzzled.
The Peace River southwest of Fort St. John Photo credit: Roland Kokke
I came here to give talks and meet writers, and that is what I have been doing all week. Three talks at Northern Lights College/UNBC so far, one more tonight; a writers’ workshop aimed at the Nanowrimo crowd on Wednesday night; six appointments with writers yesterday; two sessions with senior students at the local high school this morning; and a session at the library for six-to-ten-year-olds tomorrow morning. Busy. All of it has been wonderful. The welcome from everyone has touched me.
I find myself exhausted, though. Since Tuesday I have given five talks related to my sister’s murder (one more tonight). Last week I gave three. Next Tuesday, I will give another one at an alternative school in Prince George. The topic is important. The interest is high. The response is warm. But I didn’t realize when I came north from Vancouver that I would be asked to speak about Sarah so much, or what a toll it would take.
For several years, I have been saying that I was going to stop, and I have not. I read Sarah’s words and audiences fall still. I feel her reaching them through me. I love reading Sarah’s words; it feels as if I need only step aside and let her speak, and she will reach people. The experience continues to feel profound to me. So I continue. I’m not sure how to come back from it each time, though, how to give myself the time and space I need to heal.
It’s been lovely having Roland here. We drove down to the Peace River just south of the city twice to see the view, and he’s back now from a third trip of his own, and pleased with his latest sunlit photos. This afternoon we spent some time at the local museum learning about the history. I was interested in how recently roads and railway went in here, in photos of families arriving here with all their possession in the thirties ready to begin anew. And I was interested in oil. More ignorance on my part, but I have never associated oil with this part of my province. I was wrong. This is oil country. There is enormous wealth here. There are jobs here. Every building has a help wanted sign in front of it. There are expensive homes here. And, of course, there is poverty here. Living in the north is expensive. Rents are high. Single mothers struggle to make ends meet. The other morning, the woman running the breakfast buffet told me that a man was crying outside the hotel that morning. He was not allowed in because he had been drinking. And he was worried about his friend, who was outside in the cold. She had called an ambulance, she told me.
I’m going to stop now. It’s suppertime. More to come!