Monday, Jan. 10, 2011 @ 7:48 pm
Driving out west across a dark, frozen landscape. Minus 26, moisture from my damp hair freezes in a fog across the windshield.
Dawn breaks in my side view mirror, all magenta and tangerine. Not even the logging trucks are out this early.
Only in the north is a 4 hour drive considered a day trip.
I pass through Burns Lake around 9am and make a run for the Francois Lake ferry. Snow-crusted Highway 35. The ferryman waves me on, lifts the ramp behind me.
In the mist on Francois Lake, I travel back through time. Emerging into sunshine on the Southside, I have entered a landscape of cowboys and Indians. Bow-legged ageless men, clad in leather and canvas, drive trucks. Shrunken thin Indians walk the roadsides carrying dirty sacks. The Mennonite women gather the children into the small schoolhouse. This is the Southside in the year 2011.
I arrive at my destination, where I pretend to be a sort of engineer slash plumber slash superhero, diagnosing an embarrassing septic odor within the institutional building. I move around the building, my pockets full of keys, carrying a bucket of supplies - duct tape, flashlight, gas detector, notebook. But the most useful tool is my human nose.
Who am I? How do I appear to these people? They know absolutely nothing about me, yet they have made these assumptions about my super powers. Am I right to pretend that I am qualified to solve their problem? Am I qualified to solve their problem? I am insofar that I am the person who currently has the most intimate knowledge of that building's septic system. I am not in the fact that I am precisely 18 months out of school.
I leave the Southside early afternoon. Gleaming white fields, rolling, pockets of steaming brown cattle pawing at the snow.
I stop at a rest stop, my favourite rest stop because it is always pristine clean, and there is a woman shoveling the walk. Clad in the trappings of a devote Mennonite, she smiles up at me. I say hello, and ask if she is the one who typically maintains the site. She stops shoveling, adjusts the mesh cap covering her hair, and says yes. I explain to her how nicely kept this site is, and that I specifically stop here because I can trust how clean it will be. She blushes and is clearly happy with what I am telling her. I find myself surprised that she speaks English, and even more, that she sounds like a regular person. Her hair is a mousey brown, the beginnings of crows feet at the edges of her eyes. She is so beautiful in the afternoon winter sun. Is she me in another dimension?
I drive the miles home alternating between the CBC and a country music station mirrored from Edmonton. A coyote hunches in a ditch near a log sorting yard, waiting for a chance to cross the highway. Fifty kilometers from town, I can smell the pulp mills.
Days like this in the north make all of the rest worthwhile. Days like this make me realize that the landscape of the north is vast, and that the people of the north are as loyal to the land as they are honest to each other. I am an alien here, and although my romantic notions of the north have mostly decayed, I have hope that days like these will remain with me far into the future and that a part of me will always have a soft gentle love for the geographic and human landscape of the north.