When you grow up in the far north in Canada, if you’re at all curious about the world and the people in it, you can’t wait to get out. As soon as you’re able, you head out to the big city, for work or school or whatever you can get. It isn’t such a different story from kids growing up in the boonies anywhere, where it’s Montana or Gangwon-do in Korea, western New South Wales or the Cyclades.
I grew up, for the years that counted at least, in Fort Saint James, British Columbia. During those years — the early 70’s to the early 80’s — it was the End of The Road. Vanderhoof was the asshole of the world and we were forty miles up it, we said, recycling that old standby. The paved highway ended in the Fort, and to go further north meant logging roads and endless washboard and pothole gravel, dusty in summer, solid ice in winter, and slicker than snot the rest of the time. There were a couple of reservations further up there, and a few scattered fishing lodges and mines and logging camps. Wilderness, though, for the most part. Endless dense forest carpetting mountains, nap worn smooth in spots by crystal-clear cold lakes and rivers. Germanson Landing. Takla Landing. Leo Creek. Deese Lake. I’d like to say I hunted bear in these places wearing nothing but a breechclout and bowie knife, but with parents who were grappling with living on the frontier after moving from southern Ontario and a little shellshocked by family tragedy, the names of these tiny, isolated places were almost as exotic to me as Tokyo or Timbuktu. We didn’t stray too far.
But our own tiny town of 2500 or so was frontier enough for anyone, and, in what feels all these decades later like a deliberate, considered balance to the more bookish side of my nature, but was probably just imposed on me by the environment, I spent a lot of my time outdoors. In the summer especially, I’d spend 5 or 6 hours a day just behind our house swimming in the cold runoff-fed waters of Stuart Lake, or buckling on my first-gen Sony Walkman and riding my bicycle further and further out along the limited network of paved roads that snaked out along it, or to the south towards Vanderhoof, or the 10 or 15 kilometers north to the saw mills, after which the asphalt just stopped. Looking for something.