Monday 26 June 1995

(continued, 2 of 4)

Saturday [June 24, 1995]: We drove up into Canada. (Doug will probably go through later and fill in all the specific roads, etc.) [Doug: Who cares? We drove north, then west, and we got where we were going. Nuff said.] We got through the border without our disguises. The countryside turned boring. Long, flat plains. Doug later said this was the kind of landscape that made him feel sad.

[Doug: Not sad, actually. It's desolate, and that desolation around you resonates with the emptiness inside, making you notice it more. It's a wonderful, sad, melancholy feeling--for a while. I was contrasting it with the pumped-up feel I get from the mountains, majestic and magnificent, which Anna had said made her feel a little humbled (me too, but in a good way, not the same as the flatland). You breathe in the crisp, clear mountain air and feel inspired, uplifted by the grandeur around you.

[I think I also said that in the eyes of a city boy, the plains must be the purest example of Thoreau's thesis that most men lead lives of quiet desperation, since there's not much to be seen out there but quiet and desperation. Anna pointed out that there's not much to do out on the plains but drink. I agreed that yes, even the plains had something to be said for them.

[Actually, I suspect most of the people who live out here lead contented, fulfilled lives, wondering how city folk can endure, surrounded by gray dingy buildings and slums and the rat race. Anna points out that people here probably work a lot harder, and I agree that yes, that would be easy to imagine. Anna says, "Remind me never to live here."]

We both felt strongly the need for something to counteract this endless flatness. We popped "The Girl from Ipanema" into the player. By now we were agreed that the landscape was always enhanced when the background music was in some way contradictory to what we were seeing.

As Jobim sang, we pulled into the parking lot at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Anna never knew such a thing existed, and she was appalled. Herds of buffalo in prehistoric times were led out to the edges of cliffs and forced to jump off so they could be turned into burgers and nice warm coats. We dutifully followed the arrows out of the Interpretive Centre (Anna calls them Indoctrination Centers), onto the cliffs. I think we were both a bit concerned when it seemed the doors would not open to let us back into the Centre. What did they have in mind for us as we approached the historical killing cliffs?

[Doug: There's so much out here, even in daylight, that's otherworldly, that it only makes sense to put in something like Brazilian samba music. It too falls on the other side of the fissure separating the familiar from what we know doesn't belong to us. So it goes perfectly with stuff like modern museums erected to commemorate old Indian slaughter grounds. With buffalo footprints dyed in the carpet to tell you where to go next. Also, of course, it's a great tune.

[Anna pointed out, as we sat in a room full of Chinese tourists watching a film about hunting buffalo in the good old days before horses, that there seemed to be a lot of cultural guilt attached to this ritual killing of buffalo, driving them over the edge of a cliff in great stampedes. Doug hadn't noticed this before, but now that it was pointed out, he could see it too. Lots of prayers and crushed offerings and asking the buffalo spirit to let the buffalo be killed easily this time around. Since they were chasing them off a cliff to kill them, good thing buffalo wings hadn't been invented yet, eh?]

By now we're full of the glory of being in Canada (Hi, Judi!) and we're saying "Eh" a lot.

Done with Skull-Crushed-In. We drive north on Route 2 and outside Calgary pick up the Transcanada Highway, circumventing the city to head west toward Canmore, where we have reservations at the Greenwood Inn, a newish hotel--not really our style, but we like the hot tub and steam room a great deal.

We drive to Banff, and the real truth about Doug is revealed: he is a clothes horse. Yes, it's true. Before dinner, before anything, Doug gets caught up in several clothing stores, examining the sweaters. As we walk the streets of Banff, Doug continues to talk about sweaters. We go to eat Korean food, and throughout dinner Doug is obsessing about the two sweaters he's seen and liked, and should he go back or not? I kid you not. Of course after the requisite ice-cream cones we go back, and Doug is so happy to have those two new sweaters in his hand. They are in fact two fine sweaters. Doug has good taste.

Picture TK of Doug in one of his snappy new sweaters.

And we have a long talk with the two cute young Canadian salesmen about whether or not they should shave their beards. One has a nice beard; the other needs to lose his, because it is straggly and he has a nice strong jaw. They seem willing to hear all this from us. The thing about Canadians is that they're nice in such a gentle way. Doug says they even say Thank you to ATM machines. As we make our way through this northern country, we feel that the subtlety of the road markings must be an extension of the native understatement.

Picture TK of Doug in the other new sweater.

[Doug: Doug had already bought a goofy-looking hat back at the Many Glacier Hotel, after he realized on the hike with Franklin that in these altitudes and with his hairline, he was liable to get nasty sunburns walking around without some protection. So the sweaters really just completed the new ensemble. It wouldn't do to get new accessories without getting new clothes to match. (Speaking of which, we never did stop to buy new shoes anywhere. Had to save that for Thanksgiving in California, as it turned out.) Besides which, we aren't spending real money on any of this part of the trip, only Canadian dollars--and when you go back across the border, you fill in a GST form and they give you all your money back anyway. So no problem.]

The light is doing gorgeous things all over the mountains as we drive from Banff back to Canmore. [Doug: Again, remember the scenery keeps getting more amazing with every northward plunge.] We are forced to drive through the streets of a packed-in housing development in Canmore because "Two for the Road" just came up again on the cassette player. By now Doug knows enough to hit the repeat button without Anna's even having to ask him.

A reader writes:

It's too bad you didn't drive a little further west from head smashed in Buffalo jump. Right inside the BC Rockies on that highways (Being a BC boy at heart I refuse to acknowledge that Alberta has much claim on the rockies aside from the Banff/jasper area) there is Frank Slide. It is a large mountain that is not as large as it used to be because half of it fell over over 100 years ago, obliterating the sleepy villiage in the valley. The rocks, many larger than trucks now fill the valley, and it's amazing how far some rolled....right up the other side of the valley. It's quite spectacular. There is a new town there now.... built around the rocks. I don't know how people would want to live there. It would be a constant reminded to me of all the lives that were lost. The story is that apparently only one baby survived, in the whole villiage of a few hundred.

Rick Oleksy

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