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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The poem made me do it

We travelled west this summer, 6 weeks in a tiny trailer, looking at this giant country, following Cariboo gold fever routes and Slocan silver discoveries, hearing the ranching story and the whisky fort clash of first nations and European interlopers, loving the wild nature.

I had never been to the Cariboo, although Denis had in the younger days, desert racing. All I knew is that I wanted to go there. Mostly because of a poem - The Cariboo Horses. Largely because of the images
Al Purdy creates about the world he experienced there in the early 1960's.
Cariboo horses

 Words like these:

" At 100 Mile House the cowboys ride in rolling
stagey cigarettes with one hand reining
half-tame bronco rebels on a morning grey as stone....."

and then:
"But only horses
                         waiting in stables
hitched at taverns
                         standing at dawn
pastured outside the town with
jeeps and fords and chevys and
busy muttering stake trucks rushing
importantly over roads of man's devising..."

                                        "On the high prairie
are only horse and rider
                         wind in dry grass
clopping in silence under the tall mountains
dropping sometimes and
                       lost in the high grass
                       golden apples of dung...."

Between these pictures, Al takes the reader back to the wild history of these domestic beasts, to their genetic memory - the last Quagga, Egyptian Kiangs, Asian Onagers. Back and forth. As he does.

I expected the Cariboo to be the same landscape as the Shuswap, dry sagebrush country, but above Clinton, the hills became more forested and the country...different. For Denis, surprise at  more prosperous and polished towns and cities, outward-looking, with good services for travellers, visitor reception centres.

If I were a poet....

'The Cariboo Horses' ends with an image of horses on domestic errands, standing at the town hitching rail among motor vehicles: "Only horses.....arriving here at chilly noon/in the gasoline smell of the/dust and waiting 15 minutes/at the grocer's."
100 Mile House is billed as the Handcrafted Log Home
Capital of North American
105 Mile House Historic Ranch

Cariboo wedding venue

Chasm Provincial Park

P.S. After careful research I regret to inform the reader that as of August 2013, the domestic pickup has replaced the horse (whatever its lineage) at the hitching rails of the Cariboo.

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