The mountaintops are in cloud, the road’s damp, the light’s grey… a Rocky Mountain afternoon in September, the woods wet with childhood memory.
As an Edmonite family we were basically Jasper people – even in the early Eighties we sour-graped that Banff was “too commercial," “overrun” – but the terrain, the trees, the air, the olive-and-mustard signs and glyphs are the same, and I’m back in the Alpine Bungalows, shooting plastic giftshop bow-and-arrow sets, chucking rocks into the Athabasca, hiking up to Old Fort Point with Uncle Rick bellowing nonstop foolery to warn off the bears.
I really ought not to let my mind wander too far in time and space; I might need it at a moment’s notice to, you know, make driving decisions. That’s how it works, isn’t it? I’m pretty new to this – this is my first solo highway drive, the mass (1767kg gross vehicle weight) and speed (90km/h) of my girl’s Cavalier combining for the most physical energy I’ve ever had at my command… unless you count the time in Air Cadets when I had my hands on the yoke of a Hercules for like five seconds (I don’t). I’m actually not as nervous as I thought I’d be, my only concern the growing ache down my left leg – how did it happen that I’m a first-time driver at an age when my problems include sciatica?
Console clock ticks to 4:20 as I roll through Canmore, park and town and the hillside citadel of the Banff Centre for the Arts behind me. A strange space and place… a brief two days of rambling distractedly through its paths and pavilions as a WordFest entourageur. Mountain air opens my psychic receptors wide, and as my poet and I went from reading to reading to panel to bar to hotelish dorm room, I caught years of echoes from every corner -- cycle after cycle of residency having laid down layers of pocket cultures, private dramas, brief epics, temporary autonomous zones… how many novelists kissed how many printmakers under that tree? Erato and Calliope smokin’ up and making plans back behind the actors’ shacks…
John Ralston Saul spoke – well… was spoken to, and then responded, talk-show style – last night, one of the flagship moments of the festival, and it was OK… which was disappointing. Was I wrong to expect more than okayness from the Smartest Man in Canada? Chatty and informal, a sermon to the organist, glib, a bold call for the gathered literary lefties to continue in their established Alberta views… none of the rigor and conceptual chasedown that makes the man’s mind exciting... JRS-Lite. Or, maybe, I was unreceptive because I’d had my bullshit detector tripped prematurely by this passage from his fawning introduction:
“…he argues that we as humans are not adjusting intelligently to reality…”
…at which point my partner-in-crime and I turn to each other and simultaneously whisper "…fuckin’ stop the press…”, and after that it was all church-giggles and eye-rolls. We ditched out on the Q & A, knowing how those things go; there’s only so much one’s eyes can roll before you run the risk of serious nerve damage. Your face can and will freeze that way.
And that’s a problem, if the CanLitPubCult world is one in which you want to move – eye-rolls, derisive snorts, under-the-breath “fuck you”s are unwelcome among the tweedy book-fetishists, gentle sensitives, earnest thinkers and displaced 19th Centurians that’ll be moving with you. Even the iconoclastic drunks will only countenance so much obvious guttersniping, and the ways of barroom and bush-party are ape-ugly in buildings named after millionaires… rightly so, I guess…
Rainclouds over Calgary; I get a little fishy in my lane trying to figure out the windshield wipers. Cowtown traffic’s ahead, and my nerves give a panicked little tingle at the thought before a calm comes, radiating out into my body from an invisible zone at the base of my left ring finger, and I can handle anything. Mountains and magic, books and bullshit… hello, future; what took you so long?