A Canadian Love Affair: British Columbia and Alberta Mountains (draft)(prairies soon)

Steve Richards

I met Steve in Petersburg, West Virginia more than 20 years ago, and he met his wife-to-be, Wendy not long after. Steve and I were both (briefly) teachers in the Grant County, West Virginia school system. My first real camping experiences were under his tutelage, and my very first climbing experience was with him on the other end of the rope at Seneca Rocks. I’ll never forget how tired I was after that short climb, or how excited. I’m still not sure why he wasted his time on me, but he planted a seed of outdoor adventure that still grows.

Our relationship has been typically male, action oriented with not a lot of deep talk, but unspoken deep feelings. We cut firewood, hiked, chased and fed cows, made hard cider and grew gardens at a place called Allegheny Farm, high in the best of the beautiful Appalachian mountains.

Once I came to him deeply hurt and in need of a friend. He gave me a sympathetic bear-hug and then immediately put me to work painting or some such thing—exactly what I needed. Wendy followed up with cookies and sympathy, and I was well on the way to recovery.

The Allegheny Farm time, a short couple of years, with Steve and Wendy, remain among the most memorable of my life. I somehow grew in maturity during that time, and I think having their friendship as anchor made that possible.

Steve and Wendy were in Oregon (where I was) for a few years, but returned East more than ten years ago. Claire and I visited with them in Virginia for nearly two weeks on our long journey around the country, and Steve escorted us on his bike when we left. They were visiting friends in the West this summer and Steve decided to bring his bike and tour with us for awhile in BC.

Next day, Mary Ann took us for a short hike to a small lake. We swam in the cool waters along with Pinot their dog. While we dried in the hot sun, we killed biting flies and threw them to trout minnows. Beautiful place.

While we swam, Claude slept, preparing for four days of rotating 12 hour shifts in the mines running heavy equipment. Then he gets four days off. Claude is French Canadian from upper Quebec, but has been in BC for many years. Mary Ann says he does not support Quebec separation, but that his family, still there, are all for it. It seems to be the question that will never go away until there is separation. From the outside, it sometimes seems to me that it might be best thing to happen; the alternative being a constant and draining tension between French and English Canada, that can only weaken any sense of unity. (I’ve changed my mind by 2021)

Americans have many regional differences: some folks in the South still fight the Civil War; The East disdains the West, the West dislikes the East; everybody distrusts California… But there is never any doubt we are Americans, first. Language, and the culture that goes with it, is said to be the issue here, but some are not so sure it doesn’t go beyond that, into the realm of religion, and that way lies very dangerous territory.

The California I referred to is the metaphoric California: Picture Hollywood, lowest common denominator of taste, made chic, around-the-clock rush hour traffic and the brown smog it produces, conspicuous consumption, exhibitionist blondes (of both sexes), automobile worship… All of these things can be found anywhere, but they find highest realization (and usually began) in California. This does not mean all Californians are blond Bimbos working in Hollywood and worshipping a Corvette. Most Californians (all that I know) are just like most folks everywhere, but they should realize that the word, California has come to mean, for better or worse, fair or not, all the above and more.

We got salmon for the barbecue and feasted away the evening, talking  more about U.S., Canadian relations. Canadians think Americans don’t think much about their northern neighbors, of if they do, have misconceptions. We have heard lots of jokes about Americans thinking Canadians all live in igloos. Only in the winter, eh Claude, right Mary Ann?