You never know when or where a scene from your past might suddenly surface. My cousin Darren scanned this ancient slide and posted it on Facebook. It’s me and W, my bearded biologist husband, married for about a year, living in Dryden, Ontario, probably taken at my Aunt Marguerite’s (Darrens grandma’s) house. She was so incredibly good to us when we lived there in the early 1970’s. We were both working, but young and stupid with our money. Thank God she liked to invite us over occasionally and feed us.
Sorry I can’t remember why we were in a hallway, posing in front of the thermostat, and I have no idea what that silvery thing is on the wall behind us. W is wearing his Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources uniform, jacket in hand. I’m just standing around looking happy. I think maybe I did a lot of that in those days.
University residence party 1970.
Long haired and bearded guitar player at the bottom of the stairs looks up at me and asks if I have any requests.
Do you know Gentle on my Mind? First thing that pops into my head.
He strums something unrecognizable. Shifts the instrument, starts again. Stops. Looks up at me with a shrug and a brilliant smile.
It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.
The simple sweet beginning.
Distinct, definite, and unmistakably unique settings aren’t normally what draws me to a book. A seriously good story can happen anywhere. Of course there needs to be location description and a few historical facts thrown in, but I like these things handled with a light touch, so that they add substance to the plot but never detract. Nothing irks me more than two pages of pointless description when you’re on the edge of your chair wondering what happens next.
But here’s the exception to my personal book selection rule; a book I picked up because I recognized the author’s name and because I lived where she lived. It was also on a 40% off table at Chapters. Strong incentive indeed, never mind strong setting.
It was strangely thrilling to read the familiar place names in print. Latham Island. The Gold Range (better known as the Strange Range). Rainbow Valley. Frame Lake. It made me remember the weather reports and newscasts on the radio in Dogrib and Slavey. The Berger Inquiry and the MacKenzie Valley gas pipeline controversy. Giant and Con mines. School Draw, Dettah, Back Bay, Mildred Hall (my kids went to that school!) Old Town, Willow Flats. The mish-mash of professionals and misfits from all over the country who end up thrown together for any number of reasons, forming bonds and creating their own life altering adventures. All absolute music to my ears.
Elizabeth Hay was a radio broadcaster who lived in Yellowknife in the early 1970’s, long before we got there. Still, there were so many of her observations that hit home and her take on things was so familiar, that she kept me thinking – yes! – that’s exactly how it was. Exactly.
If you’ve ever seen the midnight sun, or know someone who’s lived north of 60, or just have some kind of burning curiosity about what it’s like to be there, you will appreciate this strong setting and maybe even love this book.