by Douglas Willock

March, 1923
A cold, grey leaden sea.
The Bay of Fundy, with St. John ahead.
A bleak unwelcome looking shore.
Why leave the comfort of the old “Montrose”?
The first note –
Clang of locomotive bell –
Unrecognized, and yet to be
Our weird to dree across that mighty land.

The locomotive,
Monstrous to our alien eye
With all its workings most indecently exposed.
Across the state of Maine, US to Montreal.
Seems strange.

We cross the board twice
With no more fuss than on the Cathcart run.
The road-bed’s rough,
And starts and stops more kin
To freight at home.
Aboard that train for days and nights.

The land is vast, and flat, and white, and cold.
Does man live here?
There is but little sign of life.
Some beasts that huddle by the straw
Of sodden snow-clad shack:
The flirting tail of disappearing doe:
The lonely clang of locomotive bell.

One evening
In Alberta with the setting sun.
In pastel shades of green and blue,
And golden merging into red,
We glimpse the Rockies towering mile on mile.
Adventure gripped our heart –
And grips us still.

By morning
Toiling deep within majestic peaks,
That smile or frown as sunlight sheens
Or shades their snowy flank
And rocky wind-swept crag.
A memory of far Goat Fell
Approached by bleak Glen Rosa,
Stirs the pulse.
But this
Is magnified a thousand-fold.

The Summit gives a pause
To walk the ice-clad boards
Of tiny wayside stop.
The summit,
Or great divide,
Where, one side, waters flow
To form the mighty rivers of the Eastern plains;
And, on the other,
Gurgling happily, the way we go,
Cascading down the western bluffs,
The shorter, faster route
They form the Fraser,
Mother of the salmon hoarde;
Full of nascent power
For industry unborn;
Feeder of the delta farm land.

A friendly cattle rancher,
Outward bound
To settle at the coast, enquires
“What brought you to this west of ours?”
And then –
“Weel laddie dinna fret ower much.
“When you’ve been broke a time or two
“You’ll like it fine.
“And mak your pile –
“Nae doot.”

Down through the valley
In the early sun.
Fields are glowing in the first clear tender green of spring.
The houses
Open-faced and pleasant;
Daffodil and crocus showing;
Blossom on an early plum.
Men at work with team or tractor.
Kiddies trotting off to school.
Docile, sleek, and varied cattle
Ruminate in leisured ease.
Birds are flirting, trees are budding.
Life is bursting at the seam.
Would you say –
“A lotus-land,
“Nestling at the Rocky’s foothills, washed by great Pacific waters?”

Maybe so –
But please remember B.C. has her hardy spots –
And that early morning vision
Soothed a winter wearied wight;
Raised his bruised and broken spirit;
Relit all his expectations; brought back peace
And joy in life.
Now we draw into Vancouver,
And the bell,
Clanging still – seems almost friendly –
As we scatter from the rails.

Later,
on Vancouver Island,
Comes the spell of learning how.
Learning on a Saanich farm.
Reid, a Paisley man, the farmer,
With his wife –
Ontario born –
Worker, and the swellest cook.
With his brood of school age children
Each with some chore of his own.
Friendly hospitality –
Cheerful, careless, happy gang.
Teasing me my alien manner
With a light and easy banter
And a lightening wit.
It was here
I came to know, something of the mighty Sundae.

“Teach you some Canadian living.”
Said the kids one afternoon.
Drove into the nearby city.
Took me to a local spot.
Handed me a lengthy list –
List of luscious looking words.
Made me choose – ’twas Greek to me.
Yet I chose, and
For myself
The homeliest looking name seemed best,
Laden tray, with –
Perched in state – a banquet that was set for me.

Three hills, three flavours, of ice-cream
Swam in the juice of luscious fruits.
Pine-apple
Shredded fine, with cherry red, and condiments,
With grated nuts on top.
And, holding in the sides,
Ther coyly peeped
Glimpses
Of the elongated fruit that prompted me to choose
My first
Banana Split.

The cows to milk, the barn to clean,
And to me given the Clydesdale team.
There I could shine, and so could they,
And to the lanky Scot the gang
Gave praise –
“You’ve spoilt that team. It’s worked all spring with you.
“And now
“They look far better at the end
“Thank they have done before.”

To plough that deep, black, bottomland
Was earthy, tangy, bliss.
Mild sunny days that steamed the turning earth.
The Clydesdales moving with a single thought
And with a know-how far ahead of mine,
There is much more, but as you see,
The years are catching up with me.
These memories are all of early times.
That’s 1923.
I must wake up for spring is here again,
But years have sped, and now
It’s 1947.