These poems recall and reimagine a family’s life in Spillimacheen, British Columbia — no plumbing, no central heating — and a childhood spent outdoors, framed by the Rockies and Purcell Mountains.
Wound through this collection are the tensions and hostilities that go back generations, to the great-great-grandparents who immigrated from urban centres and settled in isolation. Women forced to relinquish their children to the lure of the rivers, and men who trudged the trapline and worked in mines.
The voice in these poems, never sentimental and rarely tender, winds through birch leaves, birdsong, and snake skins. Circumspect, it attempts to gather the gnawing secrets of a family’s history as they negotiated the hardships of rural life. The language is visceral — mud and blood and dust — and juxtaposed by the psychological agonies of waiting. Throughout, landscape bears down and uplifts, in unequal measure. “Bats flicker over the sloughs, the last reflected daylight. Ahead, the house lights are on.” At its heart, a little girl rides a dust horse in the parking lot outside the bar, where her father drinks; years later, she waits in the truck for hours, to drive him home.
"Catherine Stewart is a superb guide to the Columbia River valley, as it was and is. Her view is a long one. From creatures alive 500 million years ago whose “last breath is mud,” moving through layers of ancestors with “always the pull of the river in their bones,” her book is a sinewy, rich, topophilic honouring of place and past." — Tim Lillburn
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