From Part 1, Sept. 19, 2015: A visceral sense of place is very important to me when writing my novels, and after setting them in far-flung locales, I’m bringing this new novel-in-progress home to my back yard. Growing up fourth-generation in the far Northwest corner of the U.S., very close to Canada, I’m rooted in our green forests and inland waterways. I’ve always felt a tension between my love of my homeland and wanderlust, and in this new novel I’m exploring themes of displacement as ocean levels rise in the near future and coastal dwellers must move. Northwest native culture is so interwoven with the importance of ancestral homelands that I felt I needed a refresher visit to some coastal villages and wilderness just to the north in British Columbia. And research made a fine excuse to pack up the car for a ferry and road trip.
As mentioned in the last installment (Dec. 12, 2015), Thor and I bade farewell to beautiful Bella Coola, vowing to return to explore more of the lush rain-forest valley, its wildlife, and the gentle people. But first we had to conquer the infamously steep “Hill,” a gravel switchback road with 18-degree grades. The valley had been isolated by the absence of roads connecting to the interior until the inhabitants, frustrated by the government’s failure to build a road, decided to make their own in 1953. They pooled their money to buy dynamite, and blasted out a crude passage they dubbed “Freedom Road,” which the government later improved. But “improved” is a relative term here. In places wide enough for only one vehicle, the road has no guard rails, and the crumbly edge drops off of dizzying heights into the river canyon far below. Once we’d headed up it, Thor refused to stop for a photo, so I’ve borrowed this one:
Once we’d survived The Hill, we were cruising east along Highway 20 across the lovely high plateau of the Chilcotin/Cariboo country. Autumn colors painted gorgeous swaths of yellow, orange, and red against the green pine and fir trees.
Hoping for sight of the supposedly ubiquitous moose in the marshy areas, again we saw no wildlife, unless you count the cows wandering across the highway of this ranching area.
The split rail fences, where they existed, had an unusual diagonal construction.
I couldn’t get my fill of the beautiful vistas toward the distant Rocky Mountains (see top photo).
Another goal of my writing research was to visit the XatSull Heritage Village of “Interior Salish” or “Suswap Culture.” The visitor attraction, financed by the B.C. government, was intended to recreate aboriginal dwellings of the area, but ended up incorporating teepees along with more authentic pit dwellings. When we arrived for our reserved tour, the site along the rugged Fraser River gorge appeared deserted, but eventually Ralph, a tribal member, arrived to show us around. He explained that the tribe had lost knowledge of its traditional stories and ways—again, the sadly familiar history of the Residential Schools that had apparently succeeded here in breaking traditional connections. Ralph was very open in explaining his sadness about the loss of tribal identity, and the unwillingness of the younger tribal members to help with the heritage village efforts. He informed us that the reconstructions had been guided by two Germans who were part of the very popular German movement that studies American Plains Native culture and creates mock Plains villages where they practice their version of native living. So, ironically, the XatSull Village offered teepees for tourist accommodations. This recreated pit dwelling is more authentic:
Ralph guided us down the steep cliffs to the edge of the river, where tribal members for perhaps 4,000 years have speared salmon from the treacherous currents. He showed us a rope secured to a metal ring, where native fishermen still tie themselves at the edge of the water to avoid falling in.
Thor, a geologist, was quite taken by large, polished balls of volcanic basalt that had been carried from far upstream by the river and tossed up into jagged fissures in the cliff.
We did spot a golden eagle soaring above us, but our only other critter sighting was this friendly cat who demanded petting.
Bidding farewell to our host Ralph, we left with a rather heavy feeling of grief for all that has been lost to “cultural cleansing” in North America. It was quite a contrast to the cheerful optimism we’d encountered in Bella Coola, but it was an important reminder of the continuing struggles by tribal people.
We returned to our lodging in Williams Lake, home to a famous “Stampede” or rodeo, where the ranching culture is matched by the economic importance of logging. This photo shows only part of the huge piles of logs, probably 30 feet high, stretching over a wide area.
We took a short hike through wetlands and along a creek near town, where we encountered this sign, and then some fresh and steaming sign of bears. Again, we were relieved to avoid an “up close and personal” visit with Grizzly.
Finally heading south toward home, on Highway 97 along the Fraser River, we made another geological detour for Thor to visit a canyon showing the layers of volcanic flows that created this area.
A last, quick stop to walk down to the former highway bridge over the gorge reminded us of all the bridges we’d been exploring on our trip, between past and present. And future? Thank you, Beautiful British Columbia!
Sara’s newest from Book View Cafe was recently released in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection. It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?” The novel has received the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction.