Should we stay or should we go?

It’s been a tumultuous few months in Driftwood Canyon. About a year ago we began to think about moving to the coast. Back to Powell River, the town where I grew up. Indeed, back into the house where my mother still lives. Where I’m writing this now.

No one was more surprised than I was. For years I thought the farthest I’d move was the fifteen km into Smithers. Anyone who’s read my blog here, or my other writing, can’t help but know how much the Bulkley Valley has been part of our lives; I met my husband (t)here, our kids were born and raised (t)here, we’ve hiked and snowshoed the hills for over forty years, we have deep and richly satisfying roots (t)here. I agreed with Wendell Berry and Pete Seeger advising us to settle in a place and stick to it.

But priorities shift. And while obstinance is a familiar stance for me, I am adaptable. And my mom, approaching 95, lives in a large house beside the ocean. So here we are.

I cringe a little when people say something is meant to be. It’s nice when things fall into place, but I don’t believe there are forces in the universe re-arranging the furniture to open up new opportunities for you or me. But when we talked to the ducks, they lined up in a lovely row.  One day I met an acquaintance in the drug store, told her we were moving, and asked in jest, do you want to buy a house in the country? She looked at me funny and we both laughed. The next week she appeared on our doorstep with her partner; we had tea and showed them around. They began to arrange financing. And that was pretty much it: we had four months to choose what to keep and what to clear out from forty years of feathers, skulls, stones, nests, books, toys, letters, photographs, and internal combustion engines. We had four months to finish editing, designing and printing Creekstone’s latest book. We launched Song of the Earth: The Life of Alfred Joseph by Ross Hoffman at the Hagwilget Gathering Place the night before we left.

As for the signs:

The winter was long and cold.

A fellow whose property touches Driftwood Road decided to log down the steep bank right to the road, haul out a few truckloads and leave a mess for his neighbours to enjoy.

Another fellow had been logging on his property further up the creek; he wasn’t allowed to haul his logs out Driftwood Road, but the wetlands we snowshoed in for years are now islands within cut blocks.

The willows are dying; the beautiful scrub willows that have given shape to a landscape of straight trees – spruce, pine, aspen, birch and cottonwood – and made enchanting nooks and crannies and forts and benches of lichen-spattered bark, the host for the fragrant fungus that sets you sniffing at stray wisp of something like vanilla. The beautiful smell of willow burning in the stove. The willow borer has laid waste to them and their dead lie strewn across the steep canyon walls, just waiting for another kind of fire.









The spring turned dry and dusty, great clouds rising off roads and parking lots.

And then there’s the wheelbarrow. I’ve been rewriting the ending of my wheelbarrow poem for twenty years – and when we celebrated our fortieth year beside Driftwood Creek, it became “Forty years: one house, one husband, one wheelbarrow.” We’d had many discussions about what to take to Powell River. What to give to friends, to the thrift store, what to throw away. A week before the moving van was scheduled to arrive, we talked about that wheelbarrow. It seemed silly to take it; my mom has two. The next day, Lynn brought up a load of firewood and returned to the woodshed with the empty barrow. One of the handles fell off.  I’m not sure what that signified. A certain kind of obstinacy of its own.

Choosing to move didn’t mean it would happen. Or that it was meant to happen, as tempting as that thought is. I became particularly fond of the idea of unexpected connections years ago, reading parts of David McFadden’s Great Lakes Suite: A Trip Around Lake Ontario, first published in 1988, as well as A Trip Around Lake Erie and A Trip Around Lake Huron, both first published in 1980. McFadden always found significance in seemingly random occurrences. But perhaps find isn’t the right word. Perhaps create is more accurate. Which is what writing does, at least for me. Creates significance, meaning.

We’re here now and beginning to get our bearings. The harlequins we looked for this time of year in Driftwood Creek are floating right below my mother’s house. White-crowned sparrows that cleaned up under our bird feeders in Smithers forage under her shrubs. But the mammals we see are seals, sea lions, orcas, otters. The birds we feed are gulls and crows. And after all those years living in a canyon, watching the evening sun play across the trees down the road, we can stand outside and watch sunsets that go on and on.


23 thoughts on “Should we stay or should we go?

  1. Beautiful. Poignant. Happy. Sad. All these emotions and more run through my mind as I read your latest, Sheila. Thank goodness for writing connections.

  2. Well said Sheila. I experienced a similar move three years ago – 100 Mile House to Portland Oregon. My stay in 100 Mile was 40 years and I cherished the roots I had there. Many dear friends, including the wildlife. The move for me was initially to attend college again, then followed finding a wife! After three years here in Portland, Oregon, I’m just now starting to feel roots. Not particularly strong yet, but oh so precious.

  3. Hello Sheila, your lovely writing touched the feelings that cycled through me as we too edited down our lives until we were left with a poem that fit into a sea-can.

  4. Thanks for your lovely words Sheila ~ Of course you are doing the right thing ~ and how wonderful you get to see the log long sunsets on the coast ~ I’ve just returned froma t rip to Vancouver & Victoria to see my kids & grandkids & wonder how much longer I will be at West Lake ~ We shall see ~ So grateful for our three years in Driftwood Canyon near you ~ Tonia

    • Tonia, those years beside Driftwood Creek with you living up the road drew me to begin the work of Canyon Creek: A Script and informed so much of our work at Creekstone Press. Thank you.

  5. almost bring me to tears sheila. So much meaning was created there in that canyon. I love the connection between the birds that were there and are now here.
    there is a ferry between Powell river and comox. I live in Victoria. We are closer now ❤

  6. Dear Sheila,
    I have been thinking about you lately-and building up to actually writing a letter-because I’ve missed your wonderful blog posts and hoped all was well. So I’m greatly relieved to hear of your new major adventure and the fact that you are in this watery part of the world. But that said, your eloquence about leaving Canyon Creek was a heart-breaker to read. May you savour those sunsets, and the many delights of your new/old home, for many years to come. All best wishes, Caroline

  7. Such poignant words Sheila. Although we didn’t cross paths that often, knowing that you and Lynn were there in your place in the Driftwood Canyon, and brushing up against all the ways you both influenced our community has always been a comfort to me in a strange way. Since that day in the Smithers courthouse in May 1978 , we’ve had that anniversary date in common and always remember you folks as we celebrate another year together on that afternoon.

    I too have a wheelbarrow that has carried my life story for well over forty years, all the concrete for our various houses and projects, more firewood than I care to tally, children, their children, rocks, all of it. It is propped up against a tree behind the shop just now, wooden handles tired and broken. I cannot part with it, how could I, it’s been a constant in my life through all the phases and moves. Next winter I’ll take it into my shop, dismantle it, clean and paint it and make new wooden parts. Our great grandchildren should have a chance to ride in it and I have more wood and rocks that need to be moved.

    I wish you all the best in this new phase of your life and am happy hearing how it is unfolding as it should. Take care, say hi to Lynn for us.

    Dan Boissevain

  8. Dear Sheila, After all of the years I have known you and Lynn, the first time I stepped foot in your house was after you had left it. I will likely visit again since my friends now call your home, their home. It seems perfect for them, so you and Lynn will know that someone else will snowshoe, will enter the garden, will feed the birds and watch the sunset in Driftwood Canyon. When I hear of people like you and Lynn leaving this beautiful Bulkley Valley, I feel a little tear at our community fabric and it usually makes me a little sad. As much as I love the natural surroundings here – the river (Bulkley), the mountain (Hudson Bay) and the glacier (Kathlyn), it is the people who give this place personality, feistiness, laughter, compassion, intelligence…. You and Lynn have added so much to Smithers and the Bulkley Valley that your absence will be keenly felt. Thanks for writing and sharing your thoughts and feelings. It does provide a continuum over time and space and stretches the fabric of community between communities. All the best to you and Lynn always and thanks for the marks you left here, Gladys

  9. Beautifully written Sheila, some decisions are not easy. I salute your ability to know what needs to happen despite so many deep rooted connections. Much love to you both.

  10. Sheila, so beautifully said and I have tears streaming down my cheeks, especially after time recently shared with you. This gives me strength to continue (as did my UDream sleep last night – finally) and keep going. So many reasons to stay so many reasons to go – I keep strong and the path opens and sends me forward. Thank you my friend, your strength is my strength! Always love to you, karen

  11. Sheila, thanks for such a beautiful piece. Although I have never lost touch completely with you and Lynn, it has become pretty tenuous, and I sometimes regret that we have not kept up our connection more. But I will never forget the basics of what we have: friendship in community as young people and then young parents. It means a lot. Love to you both.

  12. Sheila, thanks for such a beautiful piece. Although I have never lost touch completely with you and Lynn, it has become pretty tenuous, and I sometimes regret that we have not kept up our connection more. But I will never forget what we have: friendship in community as young single people and then young parents. It means a lot. Love to you both.

    • Bill, in the last couple of years we have made many trips – in all seasons – down to the confluence of Driftwood Creek and the Bulkley; also along to the Canyon Creek confluence. Leroy Taylor has vast holdings of beautiful country. I hope to post something about those trips soon. You were the first one to take us down there.

  13. Thanks, Sheila. A courageous, creative, and difficult decision. The canyon won’t be the same without you and Lynn in your house, and the Dippers will miss the novelty of your midwinter visits. It was very hard for me to leave Billy Wedge’s house on Two Bridge Creek, and then hard again to leave Hazelton and the North altogether 8 years later. And now I’ve been on Denman for 32 years, and some people think I’m a pioneer settler. It’s hard to uproot ourselves, but we transplant well.

    Come visit Wendy and me when you’re ready. If you want to walk onto the ferry, I’ll pick you up at Little River.

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