Driftwood spirits

Joe L’Orsa – Harry Kruisselbrink photo

Joe L’Orsa was one of the first people who befriended Lynn and subsequently me when we moved here. He lived with his family in the house his parents built on the Telkwa-Moricetown Highroad in the 1940s; his mother Harriet lived in a smaller house she had had built nearby in the late sixties. I still have mint from her garden – a hardy variety that finds itself a place among the vegetables every year.

Since Harriet died at age 90 in 1987, her house has been rented out to a variety of people – single men and women, couples, young families – many of whom had strange encounters there. But even while Harriet was alive, there was an unsettling sense about the place.

Sherry Wertz remembers that Harriet lived on her own, managing all the tasks of daily living. “She was somewhere in her eighties at the time and she was able to take care of herself and so on, but she would often talk to people we couldn’t see. Maybe her sister or others. She’d scold people who didn’t use the doors like other people did to come inside the house. We’d just go along with her and say hello to her friends. Aside from that, she was fine.”

Sita Then, who lived there after Harriet died, wrote:

Joe told me that his farm was on “a thin spot”, a magnetic line, a place where our plane of existence and another could be crossed.  He explained to me that his mother was always surrounded by people from this other plane and that she treated them as if they were real. The Earth had a grid of magnetic lines, he said, and Smithers, his home and the Babine Mountains were all directly on this one.

The magnetic grid theory was one Joe shared with many people. But the stories around Harriet’s house are more specific. Some tenants found that objects seem to get moved around; the teapot left on the table would be found in another room; a doll would appear that didn’t belong to any of the children in the house. Others talked about hearing children playing outside. One fellow who pooh-poohed the stories, reportedly left after spending a single night there. Another visitor, his sister reported, woke up “absolutely terrified.

Joe’s brother Tony, who lived in the house with his mother for a time, dismisses the stories. I’m ambivalent. I haven’t experienced anything to make me believe in ghosts or thin spaces between planes of existence, but people I respect seem to have a sense for such things. And when I asked for stories about Harriet’s house, I got a bit of a surprise. Both Sherry and Sita have never spoken to each other about what they experienced, but their stories bear a remarkable resemblance. And each one had a witness.

Here’s what Sherry said happened when she and her daughter spent a night with Harriet:

It was somewhere in December – it was cold and wintery and there was snow on the ground. Megan and I went to bed in the spare bedroom.  Somewhere between two and three a.m., I heard a lot of noise, men talking, and some banging around. I got up and went to Harriet’s room because she did sleepwalk sometimes and I was worried she might have gone outside in the cold. But she was there, asleep in her room.

It was quite loud and seemed like it was just outside the kitchen window. It sounded like someone was loading heavy metal objects or something. I turned on the outside lights, but there was no one there. The noise had also awakened Megan – in her toddler way she asked me what the noise was and was someone here?

Here’s what Sita wrote:

It was winter, and the snowy afternoon had continued into the evening, but by bed time the sky had cleared, the snow had stopped, and the temperature had fallen considerably.  The brightness of the moon on the L’Orsa fields shone through the generous windows of Harriet’s old house illuminating our squat furniture and casting deep shadows all around.  Sound tends to travel well on nights like that, as we noticed when both Ron and I woke to noises both loud and close.  Even with the atmospheric mood taken into account, the sounds were simply too close and too loud to be anywhere but in the parking area around the back of our house.  Without even discussing it, we both launched out of bed to see what the heck.

Straight to the back door we went, both of us stopping with our noses up to the glass, searching the crystal blue night for what sounded like two men talking to each other and unloading empty metal milk containers like the old fashioned ones from a dairy.  We were sure that it was the sound of these empty containers rolling across a truck’s flat deck and then onto the ground. But not how it would have sounded if they fell on snowy ground. And outside our door there was at least a foot of brand new sparkling snow.

But now we heard nothing, just our own breathing as we stood peering out through the glass.

Still without a word we bolted back to the living room to look out those windows to help us make sense of the noises we had heard. Seeing no trace of truck or men, we looked for tire tracks or human tracks. But all the moon showed us was the flawless skin of untracked snow.  No deep blue shadows of tire marks, no clumsy human footprints to break up the perfection that was the landscape of that night.

Uneasy, we vowed that in the morning, we would go over to Joe’s to see if he’d heard anything or was up to some late night milk container rolling.  In the morning, we skipped coffee and put on our gear to see what we could see. We found exactly what we had seen from the windows the night before, a landscape of perfect, untrammelled snow.

We shovelled out the truck and returned to our warm kitchen for breakfast.  I called Joe’s house.  I asked him if he’d heard what we had, or if he’d had some nocturnal projects on the go. He hadn’t.  So we were left with a few options: was it uncommonly audible sound traveling from far away, had we both dreamt the same dream and awakened at the same time, or was it the past speaking to us?

It would have been easy for us to go over to the Nageli’s dairy farm further down the road and ask them what sort of mischief they were up to the night before. Maybe we would have found our answer there. But maybe we wanted the mystery of “the thin spot”.  Maybe we wanted to affirm the crowd of spirit visitors that kept Harriet company every day of her life in the Bulkley Valley. Maybe we wanted to be part of the great unknown of magnetic lines connecting the places we loved.  Maybe we too had crossed over to another plane and startled some other people awake with our industry and chatter. After all, who doesn’t want to be a ghost?

Neither woman felt threatened by the sound. “It wasn’t scary,” Sherry said. “It was just as if I had tapped into someone else’s life. Later I thought about Harriet’s visitors and I thought it could be an overlap of some kind – some dimensional thing.”

Over the years a couple of cleansing ceremonies were done and reports indicate there haven’t been any incidents for many years. Or at least none people are talking about. But rumour has it there may be spirits hanging around Glenwood Hall and Driftwood Schoolhouse…just think of all those weddings and funerals…