Cultural Heritage

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Who Was Doris Hedges?

Who Was Doris Hedges?

The Search for Canada's First Literary Agent
edition:Hardcover
tagged : women
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Peace by Chocolate

Peace by Chocolate

The Hadhad Family’s Remarkable Journey from Syria to Canada
edition:Paperback
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Our Backs Warmed by the Sun

Our Backs Warmed by the Sun

Memories of a Doukhobor Life--Community, Protest and a Peace Movement
edition:Paperback
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Working in the Bathtub

Working in the Bathtub

Conversations with the Immortal Dany Laferière
edition:Paperback
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Dany Laferrière on how to become a writer: "First off, you need to not do things. Second off, you need to not know how to do things."

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Reaching Mithymna

Reaching Mithymna

Among the Volunteers and Refugees on Lesvos
edition:Paperback
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Border straits

The only other person aboard the bus, the driver, shakes me awake. I see myself in duplicate in his aviator shades. “Mithymna?” I ask. He nods.

His dangling crucifix bears a crudely rendered Christ, the body skeletal, the face large, plump and calmly self-satisfied.

Mumbling thanks, I pick up my bags and step down onto the hot road. No traffic passing, not a living thing in sight. Is it already the siesta hour?

You’d never know this part of the island was thronged with war refugees and that hundreds, thousands more are arriving daily.

The bus stays put, idling, the driver slumped behind the wheel as if already napping behind his sunglasses. Nothing wants to be awake right now. I’ve barely slept in fifty hours—an overnight flight, a second night on a ferry—and as I close and rub my eyes, a montage of pre-sleep psychedelia starts looping.

Across the road, a town of whitewashed houses with terracotta roofs climbs the face of a high crag topped by a crusader castle. On this side of the road, olive groves fall away downhill to a long rank of cypresses, the sea glistening beyond.

I turn onto a dirt lane and let the slope carry me down through the olive groves past a few shuttered houses, gaping worksheds, a weedy lot where the hulks of cars sit rotting. I pass between two cypresses and here is the seafront, a paved road running north-south along a narrow beach of white sand and pebbles. The shallows look tropically turquoise. Orange buoys bob offshore. The sea smells of kelp and something I can’t place at first . . . associations of fear, distress . . . it’s iodine, the intensely stinging stuff my mother painted onto cuts when I was small.

On the low seawall, beside a pack of Greek cigarettes and a half-empty water bottle, there’s a coil of rope, some barbed steel hooks, and a cookie tin full of chicken feet the raw grey-pink of earthworms. Beyond them sits a white plastic pail. I look inside: a glutinous, translucent mass of octopods, motionless, though they give a faint impression of [trembling].

No sign of the fisherman, who might be napping in some nearby shade.

I follow the paved road south along the beach. There are supposed to be hotels and rooms for rent down here. Off-season now they might be cheap, especially for someone who means to stay for a month. But the small places on either side of this T-junction are boarded up. The buildings to my left—two storey hotels, cafés, clubs—are all shuttered. Would they normally be closed at this time of year or has the refugee influx damaged tourism even more than I’ve heard?

Something odd appears up ahead at the waterline. The sun in my eyes, I squint to focus. It looks like an immense sea animal, beached and decomposing, an elephant seal, a small whale.

I drop my bags and walk diagonally down the beach—a matter of a few steps—and continue along the water. As I approach the carcass I step over an orange life vest half buried in wet sand and realize those buoys offshore must be life vests too. Of course. Now my eyes make sense of the wreckage ahead: a half-deflated dinghy, its black rubber snout aground on the beach, stern wallowing in the shallows.

I find the dinghy’s aft section full of oily water. A red parka floats there, arms outstretched, amid empty water bottles, a plastic diaper and a few banknotes, maybe Syrian.

This vessel is no roomier than a large kiddie pool but will have ferried at least sixty people, reportedly the minimum the human smugglers will squeeze aboard.

I walk further. Another dinghy is half-submerged some distance out and drifting shoreward. On the tideline and in the shallows, more life jackets, water bottles, disposable diapers, a saturated hoodie, an infant soother, cigarette butts.

Two sodden workboots, the laces loose and weed-twined.

A map turning to gruel in a plastic sandwich bag.

A green headscarf, the clasp-pin still attached.

A tiny shoe with pink laces tied—surprisingly, since the sea is reputed to loosen and unknot everything, gradually undressing the drowned. Then again, any parent who has laced the shoes of a small child knows that you knot them with special care before embarking on a journey.

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Kinds of Winter

Kinds of Winter

Four Solo Journeys by Dogteam in Canada’s Northwest Territories
edition:Audiobook
also available: eBook Hardcover Paperback
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Excerpt from Kinds of Winter: Four Solo Journeys by Dogteam in Canada's Northwest Territories by Dave Olesen

From North

I was getting out there again. We had left the home watershed behind, and the familiar trails leading up it, and the little bastion of coziness at Maufelly Bay. From my journal:

“My world has narrowed to the contents of my sled, these ten dogs, my clothing and the things I always carry in my pockets—”matches, knife, pliers, cord . . . Strip all of it away and I would die almost instantly. The cold and the vastness together would do me in. My caches are miles apart. I creep carefully, cautiously, from one to the next. An odd sensation like vertigo sweeps over me at times, in my mind and the pit of my stomach, and I have to breathe deeply and muster my resolve. The feeling is similar to an unnerving sensation I sometimes conjure up when I am flying the Husky: suddenly I see myself all alone—”the plane and its engine have vanished. It is just me up there, strapped into my tiny chair, suspended a mile or more above the earth. ”

My lead dog Steve had been favouring his right wrist since our midday break just north of Fletcher. In camp that night I heated some Algavyl salve and rubbed it in, then wrapped his wrist and lower leg with a neoprene brace. The pungent smell of the liniment flooded my mind with memories of the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest races. I imagine it did the same for Steve, B. J. , and Murphy, who were the only race veterans in that team of ten dogs. Since we were not racing, I was free to treat Steve with aspirin, and I gave him a coated 325 milligram tablet. By the next morning he was still favouring the wrist slightly, but he was putting a little weight on it again.

Taken together, Steve’s bum wrist and the weather seemed to call for a rest day. It was day six of the trip and we were about a hundred miles out from home. In my journal I recorded the morning weather, and although it looked harmless enough when written down, there was something about it I did not trust: minus 20 degrees, very light snow, visibility four or five miles, the sky overcast at about 400 feet, and a light breeze from the east. I had no barometer, but I guessed that the pressure was rapidly falling. Something was going to happen.

From West

The book will not be “it” anyway. “It” is the trips themselves, and my belief in the importance of them. “It” is Robert Lake, the Noman portage, 46 below at the Thelon cache, frozen dog dicks and frozen toes, the surprise of a mild February day way up on the Back River, our arrival at Moraine Point . . . “It” is the country deep down, felt and seen and slept with, mile by mile, by dogtrot and snowshoe step. The landscape is a part of me now in a way that it was not a part of me four years ago. “It” is that visceral connection, beyond the realm of language.

Lines of caribou trails in snow dropped down from the steep prow of Gibraltar Point; “More a place for mountain goats than caribou,” I remarked to the dogs. We had not crossed a caribou track since our passage down McLeod Bay on that first evening of the trip. By late afternoon we had picked up the traces of our outbound trail from that first night’s run. The dogs clearly knew we were coming into the home stretch. A few hundred yards ahead of the lead dogs a wolverine loped across the ice, making as close to a flat-out sprint for safety as a wolverine can muster. We were no threat to it, but Spruce was eager to veer off and give chase. The long patch of glare ice abeam Shelter Point was still polished smooth. Ernie, the only dog in the team who was wearing booties that day, started to slip and skid wildly. I stopped and took his booties off, giving him back the use of his toenails for traction. “Feet heal faster than shoulders,” as old Ray Gordon had once reminded me during a race.

That evening, rolling down the shore between Shelter Bay and Sentinel Point, the day’s mild air gradually cooled as the shadow of the high cliffs fell over us. With the dogs still moving gracefully, almost effortlessly, a light north breeze puffing up, caribou and wolf tracks here and there . . . I wanted it never to end. A voice in my mind asked,”Please can I just do this—”this right now—forever? And never have to submit an amendment to an airplane maintenance schedule or pay my bills or buy groceries or consider what I am going to do when I am old and can’t do this anymore? Can’t we just run and run and then, in one perfect moment, like Mallory on the shoulder of Everest, just vanish forever into this cold clean air?“ Long pause. “Nope. You can’t. You have to go in. Hell, let’s face it Olesen, you want to go in.

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