At the end of June I went back to spend a few days in Caronport, Saskatchewan, the Bible college town where I lived between the ages of 4 and 8. I remembered everything.
June 27: "Got in to Caronport last night. On the bus during golden hour on the prairies. Grain elevators are as beautiful as old horses. 15-minute last leg from Moose Jaw to Caronport, I talked to an old man who was a film projectionist by the time he was 18. He explained to me about how a fan blade perfectly in sync with the breaks between frames of film blocks the beam of light focused on the inflammable celluloid film so that it only touches it when there is a frame to project. He spoke of image persistence in human vision, which makes moving images possible. Then he said he was trained by IBM on punchcard computers. 'In the 60s?' I guessed. He was delighted. Said I seemed very sharp. As far as he was concerned, I could go out and do anything I wanted.
Later. I guess I have a first draft [new short story--"Highs Below Zero"]. Wrote in two main sittings, morning and evening today. Explored and slept in between--little food, lots of water, good productive reading-writing-walking day. Went to the old abandoned dump and sat with S.P.'s journals in the seat of a caterpillar. Fields surrounding me for miles, sun intense, wind blowing. Felt (in general here, feel) entirely, effortlessly comfortable, hardly aware of being in my element. The map of this town still feels as familiar as my child's body.
I cannot exactly pin down the smell of the wild, multi-coloured clover that grows in the ditches, like a hybrid of lawn clover and canola and Indian Paintbrush. It is something like oatmeal and honeysuckle but there is a tang, too, like jasmine or freesia. I am warm and brown and feel incredibly well--skin clear, hair soft (expensive conditioner?), pleasantly tired, calm. Ate package of beef jerkey for dinner. Convenience store rations."
June 29: "Everyone here with kids has a trampoline, if they can afford it. Summers, there's nothing else to do. I used to invent elaborate schemes to convince people on our street to let me use their trampolines. I also used large rocks to grind small rocks into glittering powder,
used large rocks to crack open pieces of ornamental shale in hopes of fossils (I found one of a bird's leg),
started wars with the neighbourhood kids (we lived on Spruce St but people called it Sesame St b/c it was overrun with children),
played hide and seek in the cemetery,
ate wheat and rhubarb dipped in white sugar,
jumped rope, chalked, ran in the sprinkler,
kissed almost all of my friends,
and walked to The Food and Pharmacy for popsicles.
The grocery store doesn't exist anymore.
Neither does the public library, the Root Cellar (a mysterious building behind the laundromat filled with free carrots, cabbages, and potatoes--always a thrilling sense of thievery on my part when my mom took me and Ros there--I always thought of my Opa as a child, digging up potatoes from Russian farmers' fields at night),
the Clothes Closet (weekly used clothes market, possibly also free, a maze of pink rooms crammed with fabric, mirrors, one which always had icing-filled cookies and orange drink--I got my favourite pair of black and neon paisley leggings there and told all my friends they came from the States),
the doctor's office, the newspaper, or the restaurant. Everything that makes a community, basically. How can you have a town of hundreds of people and no grocery store? I went to church yesterday and got a supper invitation from the mother of my best friend when I was five. She said everyone just drives into Moose Jaw.
That's what will, eventually, allow this place to be wiped off the surface of the prairie. Do you ever feel that these small towns just skate on top, like someone lined up Monopoly houses? The trailers we lived in would sometimes tip over in gale winds because they were set on blocks--no foundations, no basements when there were tornado warnings.
It is deliciously sticky, bright, and hot. Somehow everyone here is, at least publicly, righteously uninterested in beer or gin, both of which seem like the ultimate luxury to me every night. I am a brown, scratched, sunbleached conduit for water and I fall asleep instantly around 4 and wake up around 6. I have the full draft of a new story; trying to finish a new poem. The fields behind my old trailer and the irrigation ponds across the highway are so beautiful they seem almost unreal. There's a certain sense of innocence in being in a place more concerned with producing food than extracting fuel. Even the visible industry--potash, fertiliser, pesticide--seems provincial and idyllic to me. There's a train I can see from where I'm sitting that comes through wailing every night."