Stegner House April 4th

This morning I walked out on the highway up to the point where 100km turns to 40km. The point at which you slowly wind down peacefully into Eastend. The farm off to my left, as I turn to walk back into town, has since 1914 weathered the harsh transitions of weather, war and now climate change. The wind is steady and almost calm in the way it feels on my skin and it is the only sound on the empty road.  

Reaching the final turn into town the riverside water purification building lies behind an earthen high-water dyke next to the satellite dishes pulling down the town’s 25 megabits per minute internet. Removing the need for rooftop catchments into basement cisterns, and bringing the chaos of our times into the lives of the town. Although I am sure many of the residents do not indulge too busy running rigs to the farm with the radio on or pursuing their passions into their twilight years. The streets are mostly empty as nothing green has emerged since the snow has receded.    

Turning onto Rail Street or highway 614 I depart from the Red Coat Trail that brought the Metis, farmers and new governance into the West. The street is a collection of small businesses and homes and runs parallel to the rail line for five blocks till it reaches the grain elevator, the recreation centre and the inland grain terminal, at which point it turns to link back up to the Red Coat Trail and the way out of town.

Halfway down the road, a side door slams shut and a man takes the two steps off his porch onto his driveway filled with historical objects he has saved from the scrappers. He is selling them to preserve them. These lie beside his current project a handmade car body made a long time ago on a farm set on a Ford Model T frame. It will be a two-seater one day he tells me, and it gives me something to do. The phone rings and it is the hospital arranging another visit for treatments. All those years designing fossil fuel plants, working on jet engines, and later teaching these skills at university did this lead to this call, it did not seem right to ask? Preserving farm mechanical objects from a time before cars draw me back to a more peaceful, simpler time with some harsher realities. Lying beside the trailer is an old hand-operated water pump, a small wood-burning stove, and a steel pump perhaps to bring water up and out from the river. 

Saying goodbye I continue my walk along the quiet streets the sun has warmed the valley and I unbutton my coat as I pass the church advertising-free bread and coffee on Monday mornings. One man stands by the door as a woman with a walker descends the steps and passes me with a good morning. Back on the main street or rather Red Coat Drive, I turn toward home thinking of toast and coffee to fill the distance between mid-morning and lunch.

Across the street are the usual collection of refurbished, modernized houses that are a contrast to the older buildings awaiting sale and a new owner who will spend his or her time “fixing it up.” The sky still looks like snow to me but it has looked this way for many days, the dryness persists. The only water is in the Frenchman I see from the window at the back of the house where I am writing. On the shelf are literature journals, novels, gallery magazines, and in the drawers of the table watercolour trays, bookmark stickers, notepaper, and other items from other artists and writers. In the hall, the library is filled with literature and publications left by others who have worked here. There is a creak near the window as the internet line strung from the Tamarac to the house bounces in the wind. I pause to take the last sip of my morning coffee.

On the window sill beside the desk is the following quotation in a frame titled a prayer:

Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed, if we permit the last virgin forest to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste. And so that never again can we have the chance to see ourselves single, separate, vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, brother to the other animals, part of the natural world and competent to belong in it.

Wallace Stegner