The trail to Tees Kwat – finding our way

 

It’s funny returning after almost fifty years to the place where you grew up, a place you visited dozens of times over those years, but now you’re back to stay. Instead of the glance that mid-summer family visits gave you, you now have time to look around, to ground truth fifty-year-old memories. Explore places you rode your bike past on your way … where? Sped past on your way to a party … whose? Find the way to a beach you last visited when you were twelve.

We want to learn the topography of the hills and mountains in the familiar views, figure out where the lakes rest, where the creeks flow. We also want to walk trails we haven’t explored before.

And so, Gibson’s Beach. Last spring we took the turn and drove down to the water. The sun shining. Eagles chittering, harassing a heron, its nest likely nearby. A kingfisher. Gulls, of course.  We spotted a trail sign and followed its direction for a while, twisting around big hemlock and cedar trees, sidestepping roots into an opening where some cedar bark had been stripped. Just south of Tla’amin, we realized, and a beautiful place to demonstrate how cedar bark is gathered.

 

We didn’t go far – having no idea where the trail led – but dropped down to the beach and stumbled back over the slippery rocks to the car.

In July, we walked through the bird-rich Wildwood Bluffs and found our way down to the trail, which my cousin explained went all the way through to the Wildwood Bridge.

 

In October, we decided to walk the whole trail. By this time we’d read about the Tla’amin village, Tees Kwat, that had been at the outlet of Powell River. The municipal plan, showing admirable concern for a more robust history, tells how it was destroyed (I’ve condensed it below):

Shortly after the colony of British Columbia joined Confederation, on July 20, 1871, tensions between First Nations and settlers increased due to the practice of allowing non-aboriginal people to settle and claim 320 acres of land at no cost, providing they signed a declaration stating that the land was not an Indian Village. Unfortunately, this requirement was often ignored. While settlers were allowed to acquire First Nation land for free, First Nations members could not claim land.

One such case resulted in the loss of the Tla’amin village known as Tees Kwat, a major village site at the mouth of what came to be called the Powell River. In 1860, Father Durieu, a Catholic missionary, attempted to convert Tla’amin to Catholicism and move them to Sliammon Creek, a few miles north. Shortly after, a land speculator and one-time Victoria Mayor, R.P. Rithet, ‘discovered’ the area. He was interested in developing a mill site at the mouth of the river and in 1874 was granted a timber lease for the land around Tees Kwat (Lot 450), on the condition that a mill be built there. This lease agreement caused great concern for the Tla’amin people. The head of the Joint Reserve Commission, Gilbert M. Sproat, requested that this land be held for Tla’amin and neighbouring First Nations until he could travel to the area to resolve the issues.

The provincial government attempted to stifle any effort by the Joint Reserve Commission to intervene. Sproat responded that Tla’amin and neighbouring tribes were engaged in hand logging and therefore required their timberlands; and noted that they were anxious about losing access to lands near their village sites.

Through his government connections, Rithet purchased the land in 1878 – in spite of the fact that it was a Tla’amin village site and that the promised timber mill had not been built as required. In 1909, Brooks and Scanlon purchased the site from him and built the mill.

Tla’amin people continued to live at Tees Kwat and use resources in the surrounding area despite the new mill. After 1910, however, much of the value of this site for traditional use was obliterated, when the now-named Powell River was dammed for power generation to serve the new paper mill. By 1913, the salmon run in Powell River had come to a permanent end and a large portion of the land now known as Lot 450 was converted to heavy industrial and urban use, eventually to become the company town of Powell River. Tla’amin homes were burned and the village site was destroyed by the dam and associated development.

We kept this history in mind as we left Gibson’s Beach to walk the old route. Cedars, hemlock, and big leaf maple predominated – the maples’ huge leaves covered the trail. The oceanspray, another new and beautiful addition to the plants we commonly see, had shed its leaves. The trail crosses a creek that I’ve heard called Schonfield Creek, though the name doesn’t appear on any maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After traversing the newish BOMB squad bridge (when my cousin hiked here, the only bridge was a log), the trail crosses a road that leads straight back up to the highway, but the trail continues along the water. Here it follows along below the Wildwood Bluffs.

Everywhere along this part of the coast, these outcrops of rock covered with grass, moss, and lichens open to the sky; they’re wonderful spots to stop and look out, as one always does, to the ocean. The way the light sweeps into curves on tidal currents, the ducks diving, resurfacing, the loons flapping, a seal, maybe an otter, and often the bellow of sea lions. The vegetation changes – here we found one nodding onion, some (Oregon?) stonecrop, cinquefoil and even a few aspen.

 

 

 

 

 

Although you can hear it, the mill is still a startling sight from this outlook.

 

 

The trail climbs into long groves of arbutus and we began to see more ivy, broom,  holly, and bindwood (Hedera), a strong smell signalling its presence wrapped around tree trunks and climbing the blackberry brambles.

Then the chainlink fence and the gentle switchbacks down to the Wildwood Bridge.  All the years we drove past the old boathouses on Powell River, I never once thought that a trail crossed the slope up above the river. A beautiful trail if you can ignore the noise and the sometimes acrid fumes from the mill. I don’t know where the old trail came down to the river or where exactly Tees Kwat was situated (more research to do), but can easily imagine the pleasure of descending to the village below.

Powell River is mad for trails, many of which follow old logging roads or railway lines. Others are made simply to amuse us. Most everyone walking or biking these trails is out for the fun of it. The trails are wonderful and the people who maintain them are amazing. But this trail between Tla’amin and Tees Kwat feels different. It feels like one made by people going about the business of living, making a path to the next village to visit friends and families, to trade, to celebrate. Thousands of years of footsteps creating a way through the world as it was. Incremental adjustments to a shifting landscape. It’s a trail to treasure – and thanks to all the people who keep it intact.

 

Walking toward reconciliation

Sunday, we joined about 200 community members in Powell River on a reconciliation walk organized by the hɛhɛšin movement.* The walk, honouring the children of residential schools, began at Willingdon Beach and ended at the Westview wharf. Other participants were there to remember missing and murdered Indigenous women. All were there to take steps on a path that will bring us all to a greater understanding of and respect for Tla’amin and other Indigenous traditions.

Standing on the grass at the beach where my mother used to swim when she was a child, where she brought us when we were children, and where my own sons and grandson have played on family visits connected me to this place I am learning once again to call home.

It was just over a year ago when we still lived in Smithers that our publishing company, Creekstone Press, celebrated the launch of Shared Histories by Tyler McCreary with the Walk to Witset. Shared Histories detailed the history of Witsuwit’en life in Smithers and placed the racism they faced in a provincial and national context, one that applies to the Tla’amin people and Powell River as well. Smithers was a railway town; Powell River a paper mill town. In the early 1900s, each corporation planted a townsite on Indigenous territory without consultation or accommodation. Many of the subsequent settlers and their elected representatives took concrete steps to exclude the land’s original owners from the new communities.

The committee of Witsuwit’en elders and Smithers’ settlers who contributed to Shared Histories wanted to host a book launch that truly marked the process of truth and reconciliation. The book itself detailed some of the truth Smithers’ residents needed to discover, and the walk became a symbolic journey of reconciliation. Smithers’ then mayor Taylor Bachrach and Witset’s chief councilor Misilos Victor Jim joined dozens of others to walked the entire 34 km of Highway 16 that links the communities. The balhats or feast that welcomed them to Witset served over 400 people, more than half non-Indigenous. The book went on to win the BC Historical Federation’s 2019 prize for historical writing.

At Willingdon Beach, Rose Henry began by gathering the children around her to sing a song honouring them as ancestors, explaining that the Tla’amin believe (as do the Witsuwit’en) that children are their elders come back.

Cyndi Pallen (čƖnɛ) spoke about the origins of the walk, how members of the non-Indigenous community reached out to continue the work of bridging the gap between communities. John Louie (yaxwum) blessed the gathering with a prayer in Tla’amin reminding us that children in residential school were beaten for using their language: he asked that we all pray in our own way and respect the way others pray.

Along the route, we stopped to hear a woman’s warrior song, we sang together as we walked, and the group finally gathered at the Westview wharf, beside the Comox and Texada ferry terminal. I remember the wharf as an intimidating landmark for my younger self; it rises high out of the water and older kids fished off it, the braver ones jumped off it. For many Tla’amin children, John Louie told us, it was a place of great pain, the place where they were put on the boat that took them to residential school.

Walking and singing together lifted our spirits. We are beginning to recognize faces, to remember names. Our new home has every right to be proud of its efforts** to build connections between its communities and we are honoured to join in those efforts.

* hɛhɛšin is an ongoing grassroots reconciliation movement that started with a mixed group of non-indigenous people from the Upper Sunshine Coast, that wanted to reach out and connect with the indigenous people of this land, by honoring the teachings and territory of the Tla’amin people.

** Check out the 2011 presentation made to the BC Treaty Commission, the Powell River-Sliammon Experience.

Walking south from Westview

Great blue heron. Carol Reid photo

Hanging out the laundry in a grey, monochromatic morning of ocean, island and sky. I spun around at the blast of a humpback whale blowing not far offshore. Whoosh. Sheeww. A sound full of shshshsh. Two of them, grey backs curving up, the small dorsal fin in the rear, slipping back under. Another whoosh and another arc of grey. Again. Until the tail flukes rose to signal a long descent.

Our family had this house built beside Malaspina Strait over fifty years ago. I lived in it for two years plus one later summer before moving north to Smithers. I often walked the beach, smoked secret cigarettes sheltered in big piles of driftwood, dreamed of writing. There were sometimes orcas, but never humpbacks. Luckily their numbers have risen dramatically since the 1970s and we now see them regularly. And brant geese – I remember seeing those – as well as robins, crows, ravens, gulls and the occasional sapsucker.

Living in the Bulkley Valley, I learned to look more carefully at birds. And birds there were. Jays, nuthatches, chickadees, owls, ravens, waxwings, and the astonishing spring migration of warblers. Dodging rufous hummingbirds at the feeder, the underbrush quite literally a jungle racket. The melancholy song of Swainson’s thrush in the late afternoon. White and golden-crowned sparrows in the alpine. Invisible ptarmigan. Harlequins in Driftwood Creek. And always dippers.

Back here on the coast, I see birds I never saw before. Not birds that didn’t used to be here, like humpbacks didn’t used to be here. Birds I didn’t know how to see. Walking home from Westview along the sea walk, it’s ducks. The tide was at about thirteen feet so they were in close.

 

American wigeons. Carol Reid photo

Just past the Squatter’s Creek confluence, a group of curious American wigeons with their pale blue beaks and the light stripe on the males’ heads. They paddled toward me as if waiting to be fed.  A heron huddled on a rock. A cluster of about twenty-five oyster catchers gathered on a boulder topped by a gull – likely a glaucous-winged, herring, or hybrid. Sparrows in the blackberry brambles and driftwood. The white wing flashes of two juncos.

Oyster catchers and gull.

Next a big raft of buffleheads – the white males dramatic with their long black scarves flung over their backs; the females’ distinctive white cheek patches. They paddled together as if synchronized, then a quick lift of the neck and a tuck under into the neatest little dive. They were gone. A few seconds later, after gobbling some small crustaceans, they were back.

 

Four female and one male bufflehead. Carol Reid photo

Just past the end of the sea walk, dozens of surf scoters, in close. Their exotic beaks, clear identifiers. Over toward Texada, a touch of mist. The water was so calm, so grey, the more distant birds seemed to float above it. They were there. And then they weren’t.

It was pretty quiet until I neared home: a killdeer wailed past, three crows at the tide line, two harlequins, a Pacific loon, and a red-necked grebe. A sea lion huffing and puffing,

North of town, the thrum of the paper mill seems the same as it was when we first lived here, but I don’t remember the bellow of dozens of sea lions, mostly Steller’s, hauled out on the barges and breakwaters around its old log pond. Their winter numbers in these waters are also increasing. I don’t remember them hanging around just below the house. Sometimes at night, we hear them through an open window. As my mother says, “There’s a lot going on under those waves.” And unlike the tracks we’d see in fresh snowfalls, the activity here leaves no trace except for a momentary disturbance of the water’s surface. It’s there. And then it’s not.

 

Thanks to Carol Reid for the photos.

Dear darkening ground

 

On a recent trip to Holland we went to the tiny village of Doornenberg close to where the Rhine/Rijn enters the country. Our very comfortable and quirky lodgings came complete with a full kitchen, living room, billiard table and garden as well as the usual odd artifacts these places seem to acquire: candles, handmade ornaments, oddly configured lamps, old video recordings and a jumble of cooking utensils.

 

 

On our first afternoon we wandered down past Fort Pannerden to what I thought was the confluence of the Waal and Rhine. Which is where I got confused. We lived for over forty years beside Driftwood Creek in the Skeena watershed. The river flows to the ocean in a fairly accelerated manner with tributaries arriving along its way (the Watsonquah/Bulkley, the Zymoetz/Copper, the Kalum, Exchamsiks, Exstew, Gitnadoix, to name a few) until it reaches the estuary where sweetwater meets salt. I asked in all ignorance: where does the Waal come from? Where are its headwaters? Our friends looked confused. The Rhine divides here, they tried to explain and the Waal is one of the branches. I was so resistant to the idea that I claimed it was impossible. Sure, the Fraser River divides in its delta below New Westminster, but the divisions (or distributaries as they’re properly named) are called, simply, the north and south arms. And both soon enter the Pacific just a few miles from each other. The Skeena and the Naas don’t have any arms at all, as far as I know. And here in Powell River, the two rivers of any size are dammed.

I was also somewhat befuddled when we saw the lovely river Linge. It began just outside the back garden of our bed and breakfast. Ah, I thought, looking at the water overhung with branches. Are there springs, I wondered? I was still thinking headwaters. Headwaters, smedwaters. The Linge begins where a sluice opens in the “bank” of the Waal. The resulting waterway heads off placidly, finally flowing back into another distributary of the Rhine.  At about 100 km it is “one of the longest rivers that flow entirely within the Netherlands.”

 

I finally realized that the Netherlands (the lowlands) is essentially a river delta. It seems that most of the water flowing through the country’s canals and rivers into the lakes of Holland and finally through to the North Sea, originates from the Rhine (where it originates is a matter of some dispute). About 6,000 km worth.  That’s navigable waterways. And if you’re trying to keep track of them, well, the names frequently change.

 

 

 

These waterways have been managed for hundreds if not thousands of years with diversions, bifurcations, canals, locks, and poldering. The connection between the Rhine and the Ijssel, for example, was supposedly built under the the direction of Drusus, a Roman general, c. 12 BCE as part of his military strategy against the local tribes. By 1961, about half of the country’s land, 18,000 square kilometres, was reclaimed from the sea.

Greta Thunberg arrived in New York days before we left for Europe. She gave her speech to the UN climate summit the day we flew (I know, I know) home to the clamour of our own election. We thought of the example the bicycle mecca of the world is showing. Holland is already raising the levels of many dikes and doing what it can to reduce CO2 emissions with electric bus charging stations, windmills and solar power. We saw solar panels on many of the houses, townhouses and barns in the villages we biked through. The country’s solar output doubled in 2018. It plans to stop all fracking in the Gronignen gas fields by 2022.

Listening to our politicians, it is all too easy to despair. I now live about two metres above sea level where the winds and waves regularly thrash the foreshore into new configurations. A rise of a few cms could change our relationship with this small plot of land dramatically. I just hope the determination and resilience of our young people continues to inspire us to actually enact change. I echo Rilke’s words written so many years ago (ca. 1900) in his Book of Hours:

Dear darkening ground,
you’ve endured so patiently the walls we’ve built,
perhaps you’ll give the cities one more hour

and grant the churches and cloisters two.
And those that labour – maybe you’ll let their work
grip them another five hours, or seven,

before you become forest again, and water, and widening wilderness
in that hour of inconceivable terror
when you take back your name
from all things.

 

 

Driftwood Creek – its outlet

 

I know it’s time to begin to wind down these Driftwood Creek reflections now that we’ve moved. But images keep arising. This time of year we’d have been looking for harlequins, we’d have been wondering how wild the spring freshet would become. First thing in the morning, we’d hear its muted rumble through the open bedroom window. The creek filled our well and watered our garden. When I think of all the stones we tossed its way! All the rocks we winged at passing sticks – to hit them, to sink them, to unsnag them. Laughing, competing, losing, succeeding and still the sticks floated off, tumbling downstream to join the pile of driftwood at the mouth of the creek. Along the banks of the Skeena all the way to tide water. Cumshewa, the Chinook word for bleached driftwood – or the white men drifting into shore in their big boats and floating off again at high tide.

The creek is a path we seldom take – except in winter. As Eminem sings,

I walk on water
But I ain’t no Jesus
I walk on water
But only when it freezes

We skied from our house down to the confluence one winter, maybe 1979. We snowshoed down in the early 2000s with Jim and Rosamund Pojar. I remember a large wing print in blood-splattered snow, a dipper nest in the canyon by Nageli’s bridge, and a complicated descent over a rockfall. The descent was not as much fun for us as it had been for the otters, the smooth grooves of their slide trails twisting and turning through the boulders.

That rockfall just above the confluence, over forty years old now, stops the salmon that used to come miles up the creek. But the fish still come to the pools below, feeling the tug on their hearts, the ravelling up of an ancient genetic thread.

Once I started the Driftwood Creek project, I wanted to revisit the confluence and find that rockfall again. We even talked about initiating a salmonid enhancement project to clear the rockfall and allow salmon back up the creek.

The route down to the river.

We found a pleasant route through Walter Faeh’s property down to the Bulkley and downstream to the confluence. We repeated this trip many times over the last couple of years. We tried to follow the creek up to the rockfall, but kept getting blocked by seriously precipitous canyons, the conditions never quite right on foot or snowshoe to persevere.

One lunch at the confluence.

 

 

 

 

 

Another lunch with Karen and Owen Diemert.

 

When we finally had the sense to ask, Tristan and Damien Jones pointed us in the right direction. Last fall we slithered down the slope beside their house to the creek and followed it up to the rockfall. Any thoughts we had of clearing it evaporated. Indeed, it seemed miraculous that the creek had ever found a way through. How we snowshoed our way down the jumble of huge boulders that winter so many years ago baffles me – there must have been tons of snow.

 

These canyons, where the creek pushes back against the rocks that were once liquid themselves – rocks thrust up into their own future – are special places. They form passages through pools of light, openings in a geological shadow. Secret places away from our roads, our trails, our bridges. You’ll find them in many places along Driftwood Creek, from its beginnings to its end. Like the one just above Al Fletcher’s disintegrating cabin. The one below Nageli’s. And this one.

Hidden from most of us most of the time, but not from the dipper who knows the creek and its canyons summer and winter. And as if in response to my hopes, we found one right at the bottom of the rockfall that day last fall. The animal spirit of the creek, binding it all together.

Thanks to Karen, Bruce, Owen, Jim, Poppy, Joan, Brent, Pica and the others who accompanied us on the trips to the confluence. Some of these pictures are likely theirs.

 

Beginnings – the height of land

Don Parmeter’s aerial photograph of the Driftwood Creek headwaters.

The concept of watersheds has long fascinated me, as the many posts about Driftwood Creek illustrate. Back in 1977 when I worked for a Terrace newspaper, a regional district staffer, Doug Aberly, suggested provincial programs be managed in integrated watershed districts rather than in the piecemeal way jurisdictions were and still are divided. Long before that, Indigenous nations  divided territories along geographical lines of watersheds rather than the methods used in Canada’s Dominion Land Survey system which created townships and one-mile square sections of land, completely ignoring the natural boundaries provided by creeks, rivers, and mountains.

Years later, I opened a play, The Height of Land, with the image of a woman squatting to pee (women’s attention is more focused on the ground between our feet at these moments) and wondering which way her urine would run – if she was in just the right place (like the Columbia Icefields) could her urine eventually reach three oceans?  A shift of inches could produce an entirely different outcome – a little like that butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing.

Then I took a geography course from Rick Trowbridge at what was then Northwest Community College. He showed us a short film that began with the image of a single drop of water splatting onto the ground. Whether it was soaked up, frozen, evaporated, or ran into the nearest stream, it eventually returned to the sea via one watershed or another. While the term height of land sounds as if it should stand out – a hill or mountain – it is often the opposite.  Think the country north of Prince George along the nine-mile Giscome Portage where the watershed shifts from the Fraser to the Peace (via the Crooked and Parsnip rivers). Nothing dramatic there. And Rose Lake just west of Burns Lake, the division between the Fraser and Bulkley/Skeena river basins. Again, hardly a hill in sight.

Driftwood Creek’s beginnings are a little more dramatic where the watershed shifts from Driftwood Creek and the Bulkley to Cronin Creek and the Fulton and Babine rivers. A sensible boundary between Witsuwit’en and Nedut’en territory.

Lynn and I scrambled up above the cabins in Silverking Basin in 1977 on our first extended camping trip into the Babines. We fought the shintangle to reach the small lakes in the basin whose walls create one of the boundaries between those watersheds and also between Silverking and Grassy Mountain and the Twobridge (Reiseter) watershed.

Dan, the Rhebergen girls and Gisela Mendel.

Our eldest son, Daniel, went with me and Gisela Mendel in 1991/2 on a weekend trip into the basin. We joined Frank Rhebergen and his daughters to climb up the shintangle again into the headwaters. We made it up onto the flank of Cronin and crossed over to the Hyland Pass Trail – a route we tried to do in reverse the summer before last. We didn’t succeed, so Don Parmeter very kindly gave me the beautiful aerial photograph at the top of this post.

 

The kids with Silverking Basin and Harvey Mountain in the background.

 

 

Me and Dan below the glacier.

 

Lynn and Jim Pojar on Grassy Mountain, the Fulton side of the watershed divide.

 

All those watersheds draining into the Skeena Basin, into the Pacific Ocean.

And now we live right beside the same ocean. Here many creeks run straight to salt water without a river in sight. It’s a new kind of geography. For a river to get big, it needs to start far away from its final outlet. Once you think about it, it seems obvious, but coming originally from Powell River as I do, I didn’t really understand rivers. Powell River, the river that is, is one of the shortest in the world. Maybe that’s why I ended my novel, The Taste of Ashes, beside the Nautley River which drains Fraser Lake a mere 800 metres before it empties into the Nechako. Another “shortest” river. It felt something like home.

 

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.