Monday 30 June 2008

Cocktails in Cabin Ten

Coming soon, return to Regina. At the moment I'm about to meet Doug and Lou of NeWest Press in Edmonton to talk about my 14 Tractors, which they're publishing next year.

Got in yesterday from Emma Lake, where mozzies rule. There I touched up the tractors and wrote a series of encounters with people (Monroe, Woolf, Hill (E.G.), Fitzgerald (Ella), Kerouac, Brother Bernard (OSB) and, finally, Kroetsch) who showed up for cocktails in cabin 10 at Emma lake. When I realized that the first three were all alive at the same time, 1926 (when Monroe was born) to 1930 (when Hill died), then everyone had to be. For Kroetsch, born a year after Monroe, I had to narrow the range to 1927-1930. Now, any more entries to this series will have to have been alive those three years too. Barbara Stanwyk, maybe. Or Gary Cooper.

These are all people I admire.

Tuesday 10 June 2008

SE 6-22-1

I notice how easily we turn what we like into stories. I keep coming back to, for instance, that visit to the farm. I realize this dates me, but the whole trip out there was self-affirming.

Now I'm tempted to blend impressions of that place with other ideas. I'll run into someone at work, chat in my office for a while, end up telling him about my trip to the Hill place northeast of Eyebrow. Everytime I tell such a story, it layers just a touch more, whether I want it to or not.

You see how tempting this whole process is. The pitfalls are obvious. So I'll say only this:

That yard--no matter how overgrown and unruly or the depth of the cowshit and junk--would give me, in writing, everything I wanted. (The discovery of a couple of clipboards full of receipts and correspondence, dating to 1919, doesn't hurt either.)

At the moment, the disjunction--between the hardships the Hills and everyone else experienced in the late '20s, early '30s, and the appeal of lilacs and peace while the land is still moist in early June to someone who doesn't have to make a living off it--is too damn wide.

Saturday 7 June 2008

the Hill place

"There's the Hill place," John Aitken said, as we drove north out of Eyebrow. "You can see it from all around." I'd met John a year ago, after I'd identified myself as a "son of an Eyebrow man" in introducing his daugher Hilary, "daughter of an Eyebrow man," at Luther convocation.

Let's get the obvious out of the way: it's a dry, stoney place my family left in '30 when E.G.Hill died and his eldest daughter took the younger kids and her sick mother down to Mazenod, where she (Maude, the daughter) taught school. My dad, also a schoolteacher, had left by that time. Alex Foulston bought the Hill farm, as it's still known, from the land company in 1949; his son owns it now. The yard, abandoned, serves as winter shelter for Foulston's cattle. The house E.G. built in 1917 still stands, although no one has lived there since the elder Foulston died in '92. Everything is falling down; the yard and outbuildings, even the house itself, are filled with junk.

But what a gorgeous location, the crest of a hill giving views for miles north, east and south. Dad rarely spoke of this place. I think life was too hard, and/or his own father too hard, to merit remembering. During a few good years they did well enough to buy a new threshing unit--long ago scrapped, with dozens of other pieces of machinery, out back of the barn--and a crawler tractor which Dad, age 15, drove to the farm from Moose Jaw (a 15-hour trip by tractor). But by 1930 it was done.

E.G., his wife Alice, and their son Leonard who died in the flu epidemic are all buried in the Eyebrow cemetery. Their farm is visible for miles, as I said. This morning back in the city I can still see it.