When asked to join Get Lost in a Story as part of their regular crew, I asked my myself: what should I do?
Then I had an ah-ha moment. I'd ask guests to share something Canadian that inspired or influenced them, their writing, or the stories they love. I'd call the guest blog series... North of the Border.
So here's my first North of the Border guest... me!
This August I’m taking a trip home to Alberta. From where I live in Victoria (on Canada's southwest coast) Alberta is a 14 hour and 1,177 km (730 mile) drive across British Columbia, over the Rocky Mountains to the prairies—to the farm where I grew up (just a few miles from Mayerthorpe, a town with a population of 1,500).
For my first 18 years, I lived in one place. During the following decade, I lived in many places in Alberta, but I always returned to visit the farm regularly. Then I move farther away and visits became fewer. At one point, I hadn’t been back in 13 years.
But Alberta will always hold a special place in my heart. The land shaped me. I’m a mix of curious kid and nostalgic adult. My writing is a mix of imagination and memories.
WHAT DO I MISS & DON'T MISS ABOUT ALBERTA?
- I don’t miss epic swarms of mosquitoes and caterpillars. I remember running through the fields just to keep the mosquitoes off me. I remember a year where the caterpillars came in waves. Literally. A black swath of them flowed like a river over a road, looking for food. The trees held no leaves, so they crawled back across—minus many squished by the vehicles.
- I miss walking through the trees surrounding our house to visit "the hilltop." From there you could see the faint lights of nearby towns and often the northern lights. Alberta is a big province, but a lot of it is relatively flat land. Our farm was on a small hill. For a kid, that hill (and the world and sky over it) seemed huge and magical.
- I don’t miss the snowy winters that made driving treacherous. I remember going down our hill in a vehicle that went into a spin. We turned 360-degrees, came straight, and continued driving. We did it all while saying nothing, but I talked about it a lot afterward.
- I miss tobogganing down that snowy hill. Our dog ran alongside, trying to herd us. We were too fast to get nipped very hard, but sometimes our steering was wonky and we’d veer into the ditch. Once we hit the post of the barbed-wire fence. Fortunately, we never hit the wire.
- I don’t miss coming home from a warm destination vacation, leaving 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) for Alberta’s -25 C (-13 F).
- I miss the sights, sounds, and smells of the seasons: my footsteps crunching the snow; the first bud of green peeking through the white; the wind bending the tall summer grass like the swipe of a giant hand; the smell of summer berries and autumn leaves.
One of my first vacations outside of Canada was a family trip to visit friends who raised cattle and Arabian horses in Alberta in the summer but lived in Arizona in the winter. That year instead of spending Christmas in a snowsuit, I swam in an outdoor pool and hiked in shorts. Santa wore shorts as well. I remember seeing a life-size cardboard Santa standing in a cactus garden. He wore colorful Bermuda shorts but also his traditional red hat. What a memory!
Thinking about Santa's red hat made me think of the too-tight, too-scratchy, too-bright-orange toque (Canadian word or universal?) I had as a kid. I don’t miss that knitted hat, but it made me ask...
Twelve Days of Christmas Mail-Order Brides novella, The Calling Birds)?
Just before Christmas 1877, Robyn Llewellyn (my red-haired, tomboy, wagon driver heroine) leaves her home in big city Denver in search of a makeover in the smaller mountain-high mining town of Noelle. She’s used to wearing trousers, but she gets a dress from Birdie Bell (my seamstress heroine from The Calling Birds) and then goes a step further—seeking advice from all of the Brides of Noelle concerning how to win the attention of the man she loves—Birdie’s brother-in-law, Max Peregrine.
I thought...maybe Robyn needs a more ladylike hat to go with her new dress. Then I thought, what hat does Robyn currently wear? A toque? No, that was too Canadian, and Robyn is Welsh American.
THE QUEST FOR A WELSH HAT
So if I don’t miss my childhood toque because it was too tight, too scratchy, and too bright orange, why would Robyn miss her Monmouth Cap if she had to give it up? Maybe it’s not about the feel or the color of the hat but about how long she’s had it? Or who gave the hat to her?
I'm looking forward to answering these questions as I continue figuring out Robyn’s story—one detail at a time. I'm also eager to see Canada through the eyes and words of my future North of the Border guests in the days to come 🇨🇦