Gold and silver made this town. Hopeful, lusty men hacked at the heart of these mountains. Little nuggets fed their fever dreams.
Upon arrival in Nelson, I crack open a beer and snack on paleo, ketogenic, preservative-free pork crisps, traditionally raised on Vancouver Island or as what my husband describes after one bite, “Anemic. Weak. Like Styrofoam.”
I do not deserve this abundance. This view of glaciated slopes sweeping toward a sparkling lake. Capacious sprays of lavender and cream-colored lilacs around every bend. The plate of brie and Castelvetrano olives. Pinot Gris. My uncomfortable faith. All the seedlings at my feet.
My ex-boyfriend taught me to kayak rivers and the open gulf. He showed me how to harvest cranberries in a bog near the ocean. When his lilacs bloomed, he cut one for me and one for his wife. He’s dead now.
Twenty years ago, my friends plucked lilacs along a roadside. They draped blooms from their shoulders to mask the scent of a bathroom on the bus. We had just canoed the wild and scenic stretch of the Missouri—ten days of mud, cacti, sweat, and sage.
I’ve spent most of my life looking for my people. Riding my bicycle through neighborhoods. Knocking on doors. Introducing myself. Being let in for a visit.
The land is the only surety. And even then.
I do not deserve this abundance and yet by the grace of God.
The art made by a friend.
The dinner with a mentor who is moving across the world. His gift of lamb and aged wine.
The lilacs still blooming.
The certain hope of salmon berries flourishing on a forest floor.
My eyes rest on fire scars near Kootenay Lake—
On ancient cedars and a wild turkey perched high up a western white pine—its head the color of an angry clitoris.
My husband hands me a warm cup of espresso as if we have been married fifty years instead of eight.
There’s a chip on my shoulder for being from the South. For being Arkansan. For not being Arkansan enough. For not having deep enough roots. For not having a people.
My husband’s people knew how to use their hands, how to grow food, how to slaughter pigs and put food up for the winter—how to survive—how to tell a good story—creativity birthed from a common place. My roots are eating out every night and watching television. My roots are calling a professional—plumber, mechanic, psychiatrist. Buying tasteless artisanal pork rinds. True, I explored the woods behind my home to my heart’s content, and I pedaled my way toward friendships—never meeting a stranger, that abiding hunger for connection.
A Cessna curves around a Selkirk hill, touching down near giant letters painted on concrete—N E L S O N
Ravens sail past my window framing this rock and water world.
I can’t look at lilacs without thinking of betrayal and chemical toilets.
There is a tan line on my shin from the recent days I wore rubber boots on the Missouri.
Unlike Lewis and Clark, I paddled with the flow.
My adventures were mapped, expectations outlined.
Wind, rain, and lightning reminded me the known world still brims with unknowns.
I learned it is easier to go barefoot through mud.
“Let the memories be like logs floating downstream,” my husband says. “But I feel like he took something from me that wasn’t his to take. What do I do with that feeling?” That bitter seed of a false berry stuck in my teeth.
We recreate in a town avarice built. There’s still treasure buried deep in the seams of British Columbia. We leave it there with the devil and rest in the shade of quaking aspen. Here on the liminal surface, we toast this ridiculous beauty. This chance at a trembling, naked gorgeous marriage. A new Jerusalem free to dream beneath the hemlock-lined hills. I watch a plump robin feast on verdant ground. Plucking the worms, she knows the other side of longing.
Joanna ES Campbell is the Director of Education Programs for the Wilderness Institute at the University of Montana. She teaches courses in wilderness, ecological literature, and field studies on the Wild & Scenic stretch of the Missouri River. She holds an M.S. in Resource Conservation from the University of Montana and an M.F.A. from Seattle Pacific University. Her writing can be found in various place-based anthologies: Farming Magazine, Art House America, Process Philosophy for Everyone, Relief, and Orion Magazine.