Gordon Harvey – tenacity and transience

When we first arrived in Driftwood Canyon, Gordon Harvey had just died (December 1976) but his house, a shed, a bathhouse and a log barn were still standing.

Stories about Katherine, Peavine and their son Gordon Harvey are layered into Driftwood history. Peavine had a claim on Harvey Mountain (named after him) and any hikers going up the Harvey Mountain Road trail passes by the remnants of his cabin at one of the switchbacks. Gordon, in his memoir below, speaks of his father’s booming voice and real estate savvy. Wet’suwet’en stories speak of how he used that voice to intimidate them during the years when they were being steadily evicted from their homesites along the Bulkley Road (now the Telkwa-Moricetown Highroad).

Katherine played piano at many parties and was known to be pretty feisty. Some say the way she heated her house burned down three of them – if you’ve ever tried to saw logs into woodstove-sized lengths with a swede saw, you’ll understand her preference for opening the door to the woodbox, shoving in one end of a log, leaving the door open and just pushing it further in as it burned.

After his parents’ death, Gordon continued to live on the family property, another one of the valley’s eccentric bachelors. He told his family’s story in Bulkley Valley Stories, published in 1973.

Memories of Driftwood Canyon

My father, C.G. Harvey, arrive in Hazelton in 1907 where he entered the hotel business. He was one of the “Big Three” with “Black Jack” McDonell and Jack Sealy. He was also engaged in the land promotion business. Happy Turner wrote: “he was a good one to spy out the land and in no time, was on speaking terms with every section post in the district. He is still pushing in a tunnel on Harvey Mountain with a true prospector’s optimism.” He located, for Jack  Sealy, a large ranch in the Driftwood Creek area, which is now the even larger Bill Morris ranch. [This has since been split into several properties.]

Prior to coming to the Valley, he prospected in the Kootenays, California, Mexico and the Yukon.

My mother was born in London in 1882. In 1908, she came to  Canada, working in the law office of R. B. Bennett who was M.P. for Calgary West and later Prime Minister of Canada. On she moved to Vancouver and then north to Prince Rupert and up the Skeena by river boat to Hazelton. There she worked in the office of District Mining Recorder, S.H. Hoskins, father of the retired Ford dealer, Os Hoskins.

In 1912, she and my father were married and carried on the hotel operation until 1914. Then that summer they rode horseback to Smithers with me, their six month old son, strapped to the saddle.  When we reached the Sealy Ranch, the young foreman, Bill Kirton, recently arrived from England, took us by wagon over a rough mining road to our property on Harvey Mountain – on the way to Silver King basin. Sometime later dad broke his leg at the mine and we found him in the cabin administering his own first aid. He had taken apart a section of stovepipe and was using it as a cast. We pulled him out on a hand sleigh to receive medical help.

My mother and dad carried on mining operations under the most primitive conditions with hand drill, shovel and wheelbarrow. I worked in our mine when I was eleven. They stuck with what he described as the only “mine in the Babines” – others were only prospects.

How did my father get the name “Peavine Harvey”?

On one occasion, he was preparing exhibits of Bulkley Valley produce for the PNE at Vancouver. Included was a sheaf of our famous timothy hay and some wild huckleberries.

The night before he left, some “friends” stole into his hotel room and made some changes. In place of timothy, they put in a bundle of local peavine hay and replaced the berries with a box of rabbit manure. He didn’t discover it until he arrived at the PNE in Vancouver.

“Peavine” Harvey will be remembered for his booming voice – he was hard of hearing! A stenographer who worked for the Government Agent, Mr. Bryant, said the whole building vibrated when Peavine greeted the staff in the office. My mother, a bit of a woman about five feet tall, was an accomplished musician. She played background music on the piano for the silent movies, run by Wiggs O’Neill and held in the old town hall. We kids used to sit on hard wooden benches to view the weekly Tarzan cliffhanger.

I went to Driftwood school where Edna Vickers, 19, taught us. I was quite in love with her and informed my parents I’d be marrying her when I grew up. I  hadn’t figured on Roland Sykes beating my time – she walked out of my life when I was 13. In August ’72, they were back in Driftwood where many of us students had a reunion.

Gordon donated the land for the park.

Driftwood Canyon now has electricity – I paid my first bill in January, ’73. If you follow Babine Road to Sealy’s corner and turn west you will see a sign by the old school that reads, “Fossils”.  About two miles up, you enter a provincial park, “Driftwood Canyon Park”, which includes the fossil beds, crown land above it and the virgin wilderness to Silver King Basin. I have owned the original “Peavine” Harvey homestead since my father’s death in 1945. I have my private park, called “Lone Pine Park” whose visitors book contains five thousand names of people who seek the quiet beauty of Driftwood Canyon.

 

 

Ten years ago, visual artist Perry Rath and I (with the wonderful help of Dorothy  Giesbrecht) collaborated to make the weather from the west, a collection of my poems and his paintings. The paintings, many of which came from his In the Skin of This Land series, layer paint, photographs, maps and other texture to create an image that reflects the complexity of the ways we inhabit the land.

Perry’s partner, Taisa Jenne, lived with her family just up the road from us for many years and so he came to know Driftwood Creek and the Babine Mountains from the first days he arrived here.

Right at the turn onto road to the Jenne house stood the remnants of the Harvey home – a tumbling down barn and a tilting bathhouse. Using the old photograph from our collection and one of his own taken at the time, layering paint over topographical maps, Perry made Driftwood Vestige.

 

When BC Parks gave Driftwood  Canyon Provincial Park a facelift, designer Tom Grasmeyer created some beautiful interpretive signs along the path to the fossil beds. One of those signs acknowledged the ways in which the creek and the canyon have been a source of inspiration for many of us. Posted on a platform above the creek, it includes an image of this painting and one of the many poems I’ve written after a walk along the creek:

still waters

under the heel of its turn
the creek
digs a hole
swallows turbulence

the current does not diminish across its surface
but some aspen leaves
september golden
pause
and spiral
slowly
down

how much
I wonder
does depth
slow you down

if the creek and leaves are right
barely

a few cool seconds to linger
over the intricate arrangement of creekbright stones
submerged in water’s endless exhalation

                                                                       one breath singing in the long song to the sea

The creek is vibrant reminder of both transience and tenacity. The Harvey house is long gone and the old log barn has finally fallen. No more space for timothy or tractors. No more room for pirate treasure hideouts. By the time this summer’s grass is fully grown, it will have all but vanished.

 

Considering my wheelbarrow

Sage Hill banner

About seventeen years ago I went to my first writing retreat at the Sage Hills Writing Experience in St. Michael’s Retreat just outside of Lumsden in the Qu’appelle Valley of Saskatchewan. Sage Hills was pretty new then. Coordinator poet Stephen Ross Smith (now at Banff) created a wonderfully collegial atmosphere where new and unknown writers could work, eat, drink, play pool and watch birds with many of the country’s best. I brought some poems to work on, but found myself struggling a few days in, overwhelmed perhaps by the august company.

I was looking for calm, for simplicity (it may have had something to do with the place itself), and was maybe missing home and husband just a little bit. Thinking of Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”,  I cast about for an object (I wasn’t going to choose a bird – Don McKay and Trevor Herriot – both birders and naturalists were in residence that year) that held enough meaning to prompt the muse to speak. Triggered perhaps by Stevens’ contemporary, William Carlos Williams, I turned to my wheelbarrow.

 

Considering my wheelbarrow

 1

In the tumult of autumn wind
leaves cut loose
the only still thing
is the wheelbarrow.

2

     An empty wheelbarrow rests
lightly on a flat tire.
Spilling firewood it sits
unmoved by my curses.

3

A collector of rain
forgotten
the wheelbarrow is
not red.

4

There are so many kinds of wheelbarrows.
Mine is orange
like a schoolbus.
The children
it carried are grown.

5

Consider this:
when a wheelbarrow sprawls
on its belly
its legs are in the air.

6

After a summer’s labour
the wheelbarrow and the compost
bosom to bosom
rest.

7

I must keep watch
both on the wheelbarrow’s path
and its awkward load.
Its obstacles are mine.

8

Three stones from the creek
do not fill the wheelbarrow.
My arms teach me
of volume and density.

9

 I could rest easier without
a truck than without
a wheelbarrow.

10

Contemplate the barrow before the wheel.
Would I relinquish the wheel?
Who am I fooling?

11

 The wheelbarrow has many homes:
the woodshed
the garden
the compost.

In the wide light of the moon
it wanders.
In the morning
I have to call its name.

12

Twenty years:
one house
one husband
one wheelbarrow.

 

Steller's Jay 1 (600x400)

 

The poem was published in the weather from the west in 2007, at which time I changed the last verse from twenty to thirty years. When my son took this photo of a Steller’s Jay this past Christmas, I realized it’s still the same wheelbarrow. And the fellow who loads it up with firewood every winter morning is still the same husband. The wood feeds a woodstove in the same house. Thirty-seven doesn’t scan very well, but we’re hoping to get to forty …

One thing I learned over the years is that whenever I go away on writing business for any length of time, it’s good practice to write something for my sweetheart. The title the weather from the west comes from a poem I wrote when I was at Banff a few years after I went to Sage Hills.

the weather from the west

here
where the weather comes from the west
small birds gather
on the bare branches
beside my balcony

I stand
face upturned
snow flakes on my eyelids
my cheeks
in my open mouth

I melt
distill the crystal messenger
carrying this windborne dust
released perhaps
when the rock you kicked
bounced down to the creek
or the dog dug for a stick
you tossed

I swallow

2014-11-04 Lynn feeds a whiskey jack (800x600)

How everything finds its way in

Ancient Light by John Banville

lucy-sunset

While there may be nothing new under the sun, it’s always fun to find your own ideas reflected in others writing – especially when the writing is pretty fancy pants, as has been said about John Banville’s work. He is an amazing writer who dives deeply into whatever story he is telling and is a fantastic wordsmith. The opening pages of his latest novel, Ancient Light, would make many of us either exult at the magic evoked by mere words upon a page or whimper in envy.

April of course. Remember what April was like when we were young, that sense of liquid rushing and the wind taking blue scoops out of the air and the birds beside themselves in the trees?

It is April when narrator, still a boy, catches a glimpse of a woman’s underpants as she bicycles by, the wind catching and lifting her skirt.

Nowadays we are assured that there is hardly a jot of difference between the ways in which the sexes experience the world, but no woman, I am prepared to wager, has ever known the suffusion of dark delight that floods the veins of a male of any age, from toddler to nonagenarian, at the spectacle of the female privy parts, as they used quaintly to be called, exposed accidentally, which is to say fortuitously, to sudden public view. Contrary, and disappointingly I imagine, to female assumptions, it is not the glimpsing of the flesh itself that roots us men to the spot, our mouths gone dry and our eyes out on stalks, but of precisely those silken scantlings that are the last barriers between a woman’s nakedness and our goggling fixity. It makes no sense, I know, but if on a crowded beach on a summer day the swimsuits of the female bathers were to be by some dark sorcery transformed into underwear, all the males present, the naked little boys with their pot bellies and pizzles on show, the lolling, muscle-bound lifeguards, even the hen-pecked husbands with trouser-cuffs rolled and knotted hankies on their heads, all, I say would be on the instant transformed and joined into a herd of bloodshot, baying satyrs bent on rapine.

You can hear Joyce and old man Yeats before him, in this rich and rolling voice. (Did I say, Banville is Irish?)

In this novel, which is richest in its remembrance of summer the narrator, Alexander Cleave, had an affair with his best friend’s mother (I’m not giving anything away: the novel begins, Billy Grey was my best friend and I fell in love with his mother. Love may be too strong a word but I do not know a weaker one that will apply. All this happened half a century ago. I was fifteen and Mrs. Grey was thirty-five.), you become so drawn into what one reviewer called the narrator’s (and, one can only assume, Banville’s) “forensic memory” that you almost forget what is inherently wrong with the affair and it is only obliquely you realize what damage it has done to the man. But the story is really about memory and how elusive it is.

The novel’s title refers, first of all, to the doctrine of ancient light, the protection offered those living in small dwellings when the construction of tall buildings threatens to cut them off from the sky. I often invoke it when I climb out of the canyon where I live and walk across my neighbour’s property to find a few more minutes of sunlight. Mercifully our current neighbours welcome us into their high pasture, but that has not always been the case. This kind of trespass is always easier in the summer, but it’s winter when you need it, and it’s winter when, because of the snow, you can’t hide your tracks.

Much later in the novel, Banville writes, Now he was speaking of the ancient light of galaxies that travels for a million – a billion – a trillion! – miles to reach us…and so it is that everywhere we look, everywhere, we are looking into the past.

It reminded me of a poem I wrote many years ago now, thinking of the ways we measure the world, and, as you can see, thinking about winter and the long wait we have here in the north for spring. A spring you can almost forget exists after months of snow.

Some laws of physics

 1

When you touch my skin
it is warm
hot even under the rough sweater
the greedy heart oblivious
to all but its own pumping

The lean thermometer of bone
does not measure the wind
whining across the gaps
the synapses shivering
the ice forming

2

How like water you are
Even as I freeze
shrink into my foetal fist
you expand
offer yourself as a bridge

3

What span of light or years
can describe the distance travelled
between the moment when you hesitated
and the next

What lightening in the slow drift of your turning
away

Light moves so strangely
While I watched the heft of your shoulders
under that tan shirt
worn soft as the wrinkles
on an old woman’s hand
I was already watching
the past

4

All the ways we devise to measure
time and temperature
the pressure of a planet’s worth of breath
upon our skin

Alone
I call out
if only to hear an echo
down here in the canyon

I pace the confines of my damp cells
on a morning when the larch is waiting
to explode into green

It’s not only the time it takes light to reach us that throws doubt upon what we see, it is the way in which light and vision work together. The colours you “see” are only those which the observed object does not absorb – in a way, you’re seeing everything but what is there.

Saskatoon light

There’s a place on the road to town where the trees close in.
Whatever heat and dust there might have been
hardens into damp clay smoother than any asphalt,
and older. There are trails like this
that cut across the backs of mountains; one dark side
leans right up against your shoulder
nudging you over to the other side, an edge
that drops into a tangle of dark logs smudging
into moss. You button up your shirt
and wish you’d brought your jacket.

There are many kinds of shadows. Some so hard bent
that not even a horsetail can snout through
the layered leaf mould. A poultice
that gathers whatever scraps of light
it finds and funnels them deep.
The kind of light our bodies hold
after every other warmth is gone.
Scant heat. Old bones.

And suddenly there’s a Saskatoon bush
unbending from its usual roadside squat
straightening into this unexpected opening
to become, because it’s June, its own small light.
Three or four thin branches reach out white, the flowers reflecting
every particle of light, every red, orange, yellow and blue back out
to where you pause. Enough to light the shadows
with a dozen shades of green. Its refusal,
generosity.

pelagic goose barnacles

In Ancient Light, Banville asks, “What is the length of a coastline?” and proceeds to discourse upon the way in which we measure distance and time. He is referring to Benoît Mandelbrot’s paper which asked, how long is the coastline of England? It all depends, Mandelbrot (and Banville) argue, on how you measure it. The shorter your measuring stick, the longer the coast becomes. If you measure each tiny outcrop and then in between each stone, each pebble, each grain of sand and deeper in between smaller and smaller increments, each molecule, each atom, well, you can see it’s longer than you thought. This fractal geometry becomes an illustration of how infinity can be contained within a finite space.

The idea of infinity contained within a finite space is fascinating on its own; it is, of course, what writers are always trying to do: namely, contain the richness and complexity of the world within the exceedingly finite space of a poem or a story. I also used this image in my presentation to the Enbridge joint review panel hearings on the proposed northern gateway pipeline route.

We never know what will find its way into our writing – there is nothing that is not, at some time, useful. Thanks to John Banville for reminding us of this. And for writing another riveting novel.

Some laws of physics is from the weather from the west.