22 October 2007

Thunder & Lightning & Downpours, Oh My!

While traveling from Prince Rupert down the Yellowhead Highway to the Canadian Rockies, I stopped in a public library in Prince George. A kind librarian there turned me on to Yahoo! email accounts, set me up with one, and explained that I could access my email from most public libraries. (This was almost a decade ago, remember. It was still exciting stuff back then.) The following is an email I sent about a third of the way into the journey. It is excerpted from my new book, Following Raven, Finding Ground: A Road Trip in Search of Home.

JULY 11, 1998

Thunder & Lightning & Downpours, Oh My!

Greetings, all, with a quick update from Nelson, B. C. They boot you off in 30 minutes at this branch, and the librarian is very strict – the first and only truly uptight librarian I’ve ever met. I suppose I should have compassion for her, but I feel more like challenging her, especially since she got so upset when I truthfully answered “none” as my address on the form they make me fill out, promising to be a good girl on the net. “It sounds…” and she cuts herself off. Sounds what, lady? Homeless? Uncouth? What are your assumptions? But I’m a nice girl, eh? Only felt like challenging her, didn’t push it. Changed the address from “none” to that of Kokanee Creek campground.

What a glorious, loud storm there was last night! Thunder rumbling and roaring and shaking the ground, lightning four to seven counts away, shocking the whole sky awake. I could feel the electricity vibrate up from the ground and through me. Couldn’t help but think of Zeus roaring in anger – but why do we think of these storms as angry? Yes, they feel angry, but maybe there’s another way to understand them. Ecstatic? Undeniably, raw and powerful. So alive.

Took an impulsive detour last night – 16 kilometers up a gravel, pitted, bouldery sort of road – just to see what was at the end. At the end was a lake and a trailhead, and a sign with a funny, cartoon drawing of a porcupine that warned us that critters will eat your tires, brake linings, etc., and to protect your vehicle with chicken wire. “We are not joking,” concluded the sign. And they weren’t. The cars parked there were indeed surrounded by chicken wire. The things I learn… .

I love Canada, especially the road signs. One, warning of wildlife (animaux sauvages) in the vicinity, is a large, white cutout of an antlered wapiti (elk), with a neon-orange round eye. The picture for falling rock took me a moment to decipher – it looked like a bear’s paw at first. And the one for trucks entering the roadway looks like the truck is going to run smack into the road: Kaboom!

On the way here from Fernie, via Cranbrook and Creston, is a kitschy place called The Glass House. A guy in the funeral trade (trading corpses for what?) decided to build a whimsical home for himself and the missus out of empty, sealed embalming-fluid bottles. It’s actually quite livable and sweet: round rooms. He had so much fun, he kept building, mostly little round watchtowers, an arched bridge, what-have-you. Then came the landscaping. (Mind, all this is built on bedrock along the shores of Kootenay Lake – an idyllic setting). The waterwheel isn’t bad, but all the dwarves, Snow White, deer, etc. get a bit too cute. Still, it’s quite charming and worth the five bucks for a tour (given by his sweet, early-20s granddaughter). Beat the heck out of the wildlife museum that I stopped in (seduced by the roadway signs), which was a morose collection of stuffed mammals and live pheasants (gorgeous plumes on those caged birds).

Some moments, being on the road is fabulous: driving along two-lane, line-less highways, blasting the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Other times, I long for a stable roof over my head, particularly when it comes to fixing myself a meal. God, I’d love to have access to an oven just to bake myself a spanakopita, or maybe a cobbler, or… . Cooking in the rain sucks when you don’t have adequate shelter, and I don’t even try. I’m spending far more than budgeted on eating out. (What else is new?) On the other hand, I prefer bathing in the eddy of a fast-flowing creek to a bathtub any day, and my hair is so much softer when rinsed regularly with creek water. True, hot running water is one of our finer inventions, but those creeks sure are fine, too.

Time’s up. I’ll keep y’all posted as I can. My love to everyone.

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