“Hey, who’s the old fart? He’s been hanging out that window since we got here. Do you suppose he’s never seen a woman before?’
Martin considered that he might not have seen someone like Charlotte before. She was all fabric and scarves loosely draped with long brown hair flung over her shoulders and repeatedly pushed back from a face so full of words, it was hard to take in.
‘Okay, take these boxes to the kitchen. Then the rest can go in the living room for now. God, there’s still a whole darnation load of crap to go. Watch the step.”
Charlotte swung another box through the gate as she spoke. She looked around the box in front of her and stepped onto the porch. Martin followed with a wobbling bundle of bed rails. Then they turned around and did it all over again.
‘Now, what’re they looking at? Can’t a person unload a car without it becoming a national event? Oh, here’s that box I was looking for. Can you take that for me? And put it down easy. I’ve got a ceramic jug in there.”
Charlotte’s commentary carried on as they went back and forth with boxes and bags, pieces of furniture, clothes and bedding stuffed in pillow cases.
“Hey, this isn’t bad. We can really make something of this place. Come on out back. Look at this yard. We can have a garden. Did you bring the seeds in?”
Martin considered Charlottes use of the word ‘we’, but decided to let it go for the moment. He nodded when necessary and shifted a few more boxes. Charlotte’s plans tended to include whoever was within earshot, and he’d already learned that the best way to respond was to say nothing and keep moving.
Charlotte had prattled away nonstop ever since they’d left Vancouver. Martin had tried to keep his mind on what she said, but she just went on and on. Most of it he’d heard before. A lot.
Charlotte had lived next door, as in down the hall, for ages it seemed. And not a neighbour you could overlook. The day she’d moved in, she dropped over, asking questions, talking, telling about her big plan to move to the Kootenays. She had a brother up there she said, Simon, and she had it all figured out. Martin had heard about it… in detail. And after ten months of listening to her dream, Martin had offered to help her make the trip.
In a way, the offer was just to see how serious she was. But after she broke up with Gray she was plenty serious. Within a few weeks she’d quit her job, nothing she’d miss she said… and started packing. A small legacy from a recently departed aunt added incentive. The fact that Gray’s kid was growing inside her didn’t change a thing.
“Well, they got doctor’s up there, don’t they? It isn’t the middle of the Allegheny Canal you know. Besides, I’ll probably have it at home. I’d like to have a midwife. That’s how women should have babies if you ask me.” Martin only nodded. Charlotte knew what she wanted.
There wasn’t all that much to pack. Charlotte had lived in a state of transience ever since she’d left home in 1968. Six years later she’d lived in as many places. Kind of a flower child who seemed completely right for Vancouver’s nearby, free-natured Kitsilano neighbourhood.
Charlotte’s Granville Street Bridge apartment had only two small rooms. A typically bohemian third floor walk-up. And you couldn’t argue with the rent. Martin liked the building for some of the same reasons Charlotte did. Cheap rent. No hassles. Interesting neighbourhood near the crazy 4th Avenue hippy haven and shops, coffee houses, health food restaurants, head shops, and the essential all-purpose social-centre, notice-board laundromats. Good view too, if you looked beyond the bridge abutments and telephone wires. What more could you want for $60 bucks a month?
“I want fresh air. Garden veggies. My own preserves. Mountains. I want to get back to the land. Well, into the country anyway.” Charlotte felt cautious using hippie jargon even though she seemed the perfect hippie with her anti-war attitude and willingness to smoke a joint now and then. But that ‘getting back to the land’ thing felt a little scary, a bit too big a dream what with the clearing of forests, breaking the soil, building a log house, being totally self-sufficient.
‘Getting into the country’ seemed more realistic, more achievable somehow. It wasn’t that Charlotte was naive or irresponsible. She’d been to visit her brother Simon several times. Checked things out.
Simon lived in a bush cabin, a mile or so from the small town parked on a river delta in the deep lake valley. An old log place on ten acres offered everything Simon needed, with a falling down barn, a chicken shed and an acre of garden. He wasn’t into the ‘back to the land’ thing either exactly. Just liked living outside of town, the wilderness feel of it, hanging out, sitting on his warped porch ‘surveying the scene.’
After each trip, Martin got the latest stories, how Charlotte would take the all-night bus to land up in Nelson at 6:30 in the morning. “I always sit next to someone who likes to talk, until they fall asleep. Then it’s pretty quiet, but I usually sleep a few hours too.”
Martin could imagine the bus ride… from Charlotte’s seat companion’s perspective at least.
The adventure really began when Charlotte pulled herself into Simon’s big red panel van to head up the lake. Charlotte loved the drive, winding along the lake, into the town, and the scale of it all. “Only nine hundred people! Can you imagine that? Well, maybe more if you take in the communities further up the lake. There’s lots of draft dodgers and ‘landers’, and ordinary folks too. But lots of wildness and mountains, and big gardens and really cool orchards.”
Charlotte had even discovered a little natural food store. “It’s in an old house with bulk bins of wheat flour, sesame seeds, curry powder and pasta! It’s exactly right!”
Martin could always anticipate how this enthusiastic story would end…. “And I love it all!” delivered with her arms flung out and eye’s wide.
When Charlotte finally decided to make the move, Simon had been recruited to find her a place. “Nothing fancy. It doesn’t have to be too big. Just enough for me and the baby. With a yard. Yeah, I’d like a yard.”
Simon had called back only a week later. He’d found a small house that rented for seventy-five a month, in town only a few blocks from the lake. “It’s got wood heat. You’ll have to get firewood,” Simon warned. But Charlotte didn’t mind. She had a place in the country.
As usual Martin was one of the first to get the details… the size of the house, the rent, the need to get firewood. Charlotte whirled about in her excitement, twirling across her small apartment, sometimes with a hand on the slight bulge at her waist and the other hand swaying above her head.
But she attended to the moving chores in an organized way. Mind you, Martin had to help. Driving her up there was only part of the job. Charlotte seemed to need a lot of help just getting things into boxes. Martin began to spend a lot of evenings helping Charlotte sort and pack. It helped that Charlotte had laid in a case or two of beer and, not to be overlooked, provided a bonus when some of her girlfriends dropped by.
Charlotte’s stuff had to go in various directions. “I’d rather give this stuff away than lug it all the way to up there. Especially if I don’t need it.” Charlotte found she didn’t need her university textbooks, several framed prints from IKEA she’d picked up in the local thrift shop, most of her plants, a dozen worn placemats and a collection of novelty salt shakers a neighbour had given her. But everything else was going, including two twenty-pound boxes of pottery clay and four dozen wide mouth preserving jars.
In anticipation of more limited shopping, Charlotte stocked up on natural vitamins, organic shampoo, vegetable oil soaps, incense and candles. Her new home might not be in the center of the Allegheny Canal, but it wasn’t on 4th avenue either.
The trip it itself remained quiet except for Charlotte’s excited jabbering. The van hummed along the freeway but it nearly stalled out on the hills the other side of Hope. Coming through Manning Park was slow going. “Maybe we should get out and push,” Charlotte suggested each time the van got down to a crawl. The long hill east of Osoyoos really put the pressure on the van’s aging engine.
Then they’d stopped at a campsite just beyond to let things cool down. Charlotte flung herself out of the van, raised her face to the sun and inhaled the dry BC interior smell of pine and fir. ‘Wow, this is IT!’ Charlotte exclaimed, embracing the trees and blue-green hills with open arms.
Late in the day, they’d coasted down into Charlotte’s new town. A couple of church steeples peeked above the green foliage… into a scene fraught with scenic icons… the deep blue lake backed with a cascade of sharp peaks, bathed in alpen glow. Charlotte shrieked with delight.
Many of Charlotte’s soon-to-be neighbours observed their arrival. Heads turned and followed the battered van as it made it’s way towards Charlotte’s home at the end of D Avenue where it sat just across the gravel road from the ball diamond, within view of the lake and the huge lakeshore cottonwoods.
Martin felt the eyes follow them, but remained unsurprised, and the watchers didn’t seem unfriendly. Simon had said a large group of new people had settled in the area, but they weren’t in sight at this moment. These people looked mostly like what Martin would call ‘old codgers,’ or as Charlotte would say, ‘old farts”. Out for an evening stroll.
Folks didn’t pop into a community of this size everyday, so newcomers got some attention.
When Martin pulled up in front of the new place, Charlotte’s long Indian cotton dress and large floppy hat did seem to set her apart. And the excitement that pushed her voice into the shrill octaves didn’t exactly make her invisible either. But after a friendly wave, their observers seemed to fade away and Charlotte and Martin turned to the final task for the day.
By ten o’clock everything had been moved into the house. Martin ate the remains of a sandwich, popped a beer on the porch, let the cool beer relax him as Charlotte rummaged around inside. Within minutes of putting the sandwich wrapper and beer bottle aside, Martin had laid out his sleeping bag on the porch and flaked out.
The smell of juniper and fir blew gently across his face and into his nostrils. Martin tipped his head back and sucked the air in. The sounds of Charlotte moving about in the house fell on his ears in soft wood dampened whispers, and the milky-way sparkled in a band of light across a dark velvety sky.
“God, she might be right. This is okay.” Though he tried to keep listening to the lively night air, with one arm flung out free of the sleeping bag, his knuckles resting on the bare wood of the porch floor, sleep rolled over him.
“Hey, rise and shine amigo. We got lots to do today. Simon’s coming round to give us a tour and help get some firewood. Come on, get moving!” Charlotte kicked at the sleeping bag.
Grinning up at her, Martin stretched and took a deep breath. The air still smelled good. Fresh. New. Mountainy. He propped himself up on one arm and looked out from the porch. Little old houses, not much different than Charlotte’s, sat every which way in their small yards across the street. And further down he could see the huge cottonwoods that marked the edge of the lake. Mountains across the other side had halos of morning light.
Hell, this looked even better than Charlotte’s dramatic reports.
Simon’s arrival required a bit of males sizing each other up, but within minutes Simon and Martin had bonded. A “Hey man…” and a handshake.
Simon’s Grand Tour included Front Street, a jumble of lightly-maintained remnants from the silver boom years pre 1900’s, a swing past a beached stern wheeler that had plied the lake until relatively recently… followed by a cut around the bay past the marina, then a few miles up the lake towards Fen Creek and return with, according to Simon, a final mandatory stop at the community Post Office. “Action central”, as Simon called it.
Next stop, a snack at the Postal Code Café, a quirkily restored muffins and coffee kind of place where the new people hung out. “I already feel totally at home,” said Charlotte as she fluffed herself into a sunny window seat.
When they finally got out into the bush on the west side of town, the sun had already moved high into the sky with shafts of lights striking deep into the forest.
Fortunately it remained mostly cool under the trees. Simon did the chain sawing and Martin man-handled the wood out of the bush. Martin’s muscles burned and his hands blistered after rolling only a few dozen timber-rounds down to the truck and heaving them into the back.
When they’d been at it for an hour or so, Charlotte came bouncing out of the bush with a basket of berries, thrilled with her haul. “I got some blackberries I think, and some, well I’m not sure….” Charlotte looked anxiously into her basket. She looked up at the sawdust covered, sweaty, grinning loggers. “So guys, how’s it going?” The two responded easily. “We - need - a - beer!” “Or two!!”
A few days later, Charlotte and Martin contemplated life from the end of the porch, slouched down in an old sofa they’d found at the United Church rummage.
“You know Martin, you ought stick around. You could get a job at the mill or something. And I’m getting used to you. I’m not suggesting anything as far as we’re concerned, but you could stay here. There’s the room at the back and I’m going to need a hand with things when the baby comes.”
Straight out. Just like that. And why not? Martin wasn’t into a career position with the Canadian Postal Service. Mail sorters were a dime a dozen. And his social life was, well, to be honest, it wasn’t very social of late. He could hang around. He could do that. Babies made him nervous, but maybe he’d be back in Vancouver before the baby came. That Charlotte was pregnant kinda made him feel hands off with her anyway, more like a brother. And he’d been giving Simon a hand on a few carpentry projects. Rolling some firewood out of the bush. It could work. Tomorrow he’d look at what might be happening job-wise at the mill, or the marina.
“So what do you think? You gonna stick for awhile?” Charlotte nudged his arm. She stood up and pulled him to his feet. With another tug, Martin ended up on edge of the porch.
“Look at that Martin. Just look at that. Why not stick around eh?”
Martin leaned on a porch post and swung his gaze over the neighbourhood. And the lake. And the mountains turning red as the sun moved out of the valley. He drew the evening air deep into his lungs, and exhaled slowly.
“I might just do that,” Martin said… to himself, maybe to Charlotte, but for sure to the evening air sliding down off the alpine.
COPYRIGHT DIANNE BERSEA CSPWC AFCA