25 November 2011
I might have said this before, but I’ve found that this experience of homesteading has made me appreciate a number of usually mundane things. Hot water with the twist of a tap and walls sockets that flow an endless stream of electricity being the obvious ones. But today, I dedicate a post to appreciating – ‘the moment.’ (Do not worry. I will try to avoid anything that whiffs of patchouli oil here.)
The onslaught of snow in the middle of fall, or rather today, super-saturated, sloppy wet blobs of white falling from the sky that could only be described as ‘snush,’ have alerted me to the imminent end of the calendar year. I’m also already three-quarters of the way through my first full year here on-island.
The other day I was clearing off an old memory card and looked again at some photos that I’d taken almost exactly a year ago, when this project was still a twinkle in my eye. Actually, it was more like about 30 MBs of data on my hard drive. A year ago, I was at the Banff Centre for their Mountain Writing Program, working on material for this year as a writing project.
I’d already done a recce trip that summer and had a handshake deal with Rich and Lisa to build on their land, but otherwise just a whole lot of question marks and wildly hopeful preconceptions about how it would all play out.
I was so focused on the future year ahead that I hardly appreciated where I was at the time. Looking back now, I realize – and I kid you not – that I was in heaven on earth. If you’re not familiar with the Banff Centre, I’ll try to do it justice but roughly, it’s a campus tucked away in the Rockies, where musicians, writers, filmmakers, photographers, dancers and performing artists of every stripe come to concentrate on their work and intermingle.
The residences are like hotel rooms with maid service every day and meals are taken in a dining hall that has long tables where you can meet others and soak in a panorama of the mountains that would make a fine postcard/screensaver. Without even having to go outdoors you could also access an indoor climbing wall, a gym and yoga sessions with a peppy woman named Carey. Wine flowed from gold faucets in the atrium (okay, I might have made that part up).
The three weeks that we were there also coincided with The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festivals. We had the opportunity to attend films and talks by some of the finest climbers, explorers, environmentalists, writers, photographers, and filmmakers in the world. Or we could rub shoulders with them in line at the buffet.
This should have been a smorgasbord of experience that would have enriched my life for decades to come. Instead, I gave away tickets to screenings and missed readings. I spent most of my waking hours alone, gazing into a computer screen tapping out abstract symbols that related to the past or a possible version of the future. It makes me want to cry now.
That’s not to say that I don’t have any good memories of moments there (as I now recall with these few snapshots). There were the times overlapping with the other participants in the program such as the California surfer who had built his own boat and was rowing and sailing to remote surf breaks (he was writing a book about it for Patagonia), a wildlife guide who was describing his long solo canoe trips in the Arctic (Tim visited me here a couple months ago), and the president of the American Alpine Club who spent 30 years mountaineering in the Karakoram, including first ascents on K2. I guess that I can console myself that I could see by the lights burning in their writing cabins, that they spent as many hours locked away as I did (except the climber, he was usually out chipping his way up waterfall ice or meeting with rock star friends etc.)
But what struck me were the photos that seemed to parallel, yet contrast with my life here now. There were the cabins that were assigned to the writers, my particular room had antique furniture, tasteful prints on the wall and a soft rug that I spent long hours kneeling on with papers spread before me. There was the four-point mule deer that had a day bed right in front of the neighbouring cabin. He would yawn as I walked around him to get to my studio. One day, we came together there for a workshop and four elk, a bull and three cows, grazed out front.
And a couple hours away, in Calgary, was an outdoor gear big box store that was like a Disney World for rednecks (have you ever been in a Bass Pro?) I made a pilgrimage to pick up supplies in preparation for coming to Haida Gwaii and to fondle the odd piece of seemingly extraneous equipment. Sometimes, I still dream of products that I had picked up and put back down thinking that I wouldn’t need them. I guess that I could order some of these things now but shipping seems so costly and to take so long (Did I mention the 3 months I waited for a Purolator package here that never arrived?) And I now regret not taking advantage of their indoor range and fitting myself for a compound bow. A friend, Sibila, a Bulgarian concert pianist working at the Banff Centre, modeled some camo, which in hindsight I probably should have bought. Not so much for the camouflaging properties but for the rustle-free warmth.
Anyway, I still can’t help feel like I’d missed out by focusing too much on the future at the time. Don’t even point out to me that I’m now obsessing about the past. And it seems to be happening again. Right now I have other things that are going on off-island that drop onto my plate through my email box and occupy my mind. Three straight days of surf have passed me by, as well as, I’m sure, magical sights amid the snow that drifts through the alders. If I have a tan, it’s from the rays of my laptop screen. This wasn’t what a year in a cabin in the woods was supposed to be about.
I can’t blame it all on technology. Even if all I had were a quill pen and parchment, a certain amount of my mind would be drifting off elsewhere. The future is a powerful opiate. It makes you oblivious to what’s going on here and now.
Whoa, enough heavy. Here’s some light: discovery of the day – liquid laundry detergent freezes. I’ll let you know more about this startling scientific finding in another post. (Laundry: didn’t you ever wonder how I keep my whites so white? Yeah, I didn't think so.)