A couple of days ago I was notified of publication of a new issue of The Goose, an online publication of The Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada. The contents promised, "Harold Rhenisch’s memoir on the Similkameen Valley," which caught my attention, because my Canadian relatives either live there or originated there, particularly in Keremeos, "the fruit stand capital of Canda." (You can download the issue as a PDF.)
Three of those scruffy kids are Dad's first cousins: I still get Christmas cards from Ivadelle, who ended up living just over the line in Washington state, while Wendell and Wilson kept the cattle business going. In fact, thanks to my great-uncle Ivan's reproductive success, the Canadian Cliftons outnumber my side of the family.
"Similkameen Peaches," Rhenisch's memoir, starts in the 1960s. It's a fine piece of impressionistic writing — family, local culture, ecology, and history all tossed together. If I were still teaching nature writing, which I'd rather call nature-and-culture writing, I would assign it.
I’m cold. Men have just walked on the Moon. Charlie still owns the jungle in Vietnam, and just a few weeks ago I watched Canadian fighter jets scramble to meet American fighter jets over the Reserve down south, on the Line, as we put it around these parts, above the dwarf shrews of Nighthawk, Washington, at any rate, above the 1858 American-Canadian border, the one put in to keep the peace, although not between any of the people here. Virtually all the people here were Indians and Americans, who all walked back and forth across the border pretty much as they pleased, and saw, really, no great use for it.And you thought people only talked that way about la frontera? Even in the 1960s, you get the feeling that in Keremeos, "Canada" was an abstraction. Someplace else.
In fact, reading and hearing and viewing photos about the Old West era there, there is a definite sensation that southern British Columbia was more like eastern Washington or Montana than anywhere else. Ontario? Quebec? Far away and sort of foreign.
(A memory of Wendell slapping the table in a Keremeos cafe: "Ottawa wants to take away our guns!")
Maybe that "Old West" unity broke down somewhat after World War I and Prohibition emphasized the differences between the nations. But there is still a lot of similarity.
My great-uncle made no conscious decision to emigrate, as I understand; he was just a young guy moving from one railroad-telegrapher job to the next. Then he put down roots, literally — fruit trees — and later the cattle business. I remember him in his mid-nineties, tottering out to the barn to show me "my boys," the prize bulls.