For the Love of Fernie
I love to write. The moment the flashing cursor on my screen mutates into letters and those letters mutate into stories, I'm in the middle of a bar covered in glowing body paint with the buzz of vodka soda between my ears. Then suddenly, I'm dancing in the tall grass at a Robert Plant concert at sunset. I crawl into the dust and darkness of a mountain cave, then hang tight to the bottom of my seat while flipping upside down in some ancient warplane over a winding river valley.
Writing takes me away from where I am—sometimes, admittedly, in the darkest of places—and leads me towards an adventurous light. It's something that, knowing what I know now, I couldn't possibly live without.
Which is why with great bittersweetness, I struggle to find the words to convey my feelings for saying goodbye to my longtime column with the Fernie Fix.
For nearly seven years and 92 issues (this marks, officially, number 92) I've pushed myself to hike mountains, climb rocks, and camp solo in the pouring rain. I commuted on the back of a motorbike and have been stung on my cheeks with the death of passing flies. I came last in the Powder Pedal Paddle and still placed third in the women's category for a prize, set up a tent atop Three Sisters Mountain and watched as forest fires burned woodland across the horizon. Each month, usually past deadline, I hammered out one story and placed a little piece of myself onto two pages in size 9.5 classic serif font.
It hasn't been without challenges. Nearly half the time I wound up crying because my emotional ability didn't always match my physical potential. But more often than not, the stories I wrote, and the things I learned, helped shape my appreciation for Fernie in a way I never knew possible—by appreciating and knowing its people.
There's fisherman Sam, who at the age of 80 never hesitated when I asked him if he'd mind taking me fishing. We walked together to the rocky banks of the Elk River behind his house, and for hours in the sunshine cast rods into the swirly water. Occasionally, even now, he invites me over for tea.
And Shred Kelly, Fernie's hometown, foot-stomping, folk-tinged band who threw me on stage with a tambourine and let me feel what it feels like to be famous, just for a moment. Very rarely, when invited on dark nights at a local bar, I still grab a tambourine to join them.
There's the man who built, with shovel in hand, the Porky Blue Trail, Pat Gilmar. He invited me to join the infamous bike race, eat a roasting pig, and see Fernie from a new ridgeline I'd never stood atop before. He says he's retired, but he still maintains trails and grooms cross-country paths in the winter.
Whenever I felt I'd ran out of ideas for my column, someone in the street or the aisle of a grocery store would stop me.
“Hey! What are you writing about this month?” they asked.
“I have no idea,” I replied.
“You should write about this.”
And sure enough, I did. Most fondly, I remember my Italian neighbour Alfonso, 90, and his son Gino asking me to come across the fence to make wine with them in the garage. We made wine, we drank wine, and Alfonso insisted I bring as many bottles home with me as physically possible. I drank enough to feel Italian, but more than that, I felt a part of their family.
Fernie is fraught with so many stories to tell, I'm truly honoured to have told some of them. Thank you to the friends who I dragged alongside me in the pouring rain because I needed a story, to the friends who endured the possibility of a grizzly bear encounter just so I'd have something to write about. Thanks to the butcher, the ice climber, the beekeeper, the yoga instructor, the tree planter, the hiker, the adventurer. To the man (my husband) for pushing me to do terrifying things, and to everyone who stopped me in my tracks and encouraged me to keep writing. Thank you.
I swear I'm not crying, it's just dusty in here.