Link back to Chapter 7
By the beginning of April most of the snow had gone from Meadowvale, and the days were warming up and stretching out, although the nights were still cold. By Easter Monday, April 4th, the weather was clear and bright for my first trip to Jasper. It was a long drive – around eleven hours in total – and I took Kelly’s advice and broke it up, staying overnight in Edmonton. “That way you’ll see the mountains in the daylight as you’re coming in”, she said to me; “If the weather’s good, that’s a sight you’ll never forget”. So I spent a night in Edmonton on Krista’s couch – she was in Meadowvale for the holidays, and she gave me her spare key – and I drove the final four hours up to Jasper the next day.
Over the past three months Kelly and I had continued to write to each other at least once a week, sharing some of our questions and thoughts about God and spirituality, about books we were reading and music we were enjoying, and generally continuing the process of getting to know each other better. Her letters were chattier than mine; she enjoyed telling me about her work colleagues, about her favourite cross country ski trails, about coffee shops in Jasper that she liked, and about little details of her daily life. I did that kind of thing from time to time in letters to Owen or my mother, but it wasn’t something that came naturally to me. However, I found myself enjoying the little stories and humorous details Kelly shared with me, and so I made an effort to do the same for her.
Gradually, as the weeks went by, we found ourselves calling each other more frequently, particularly if we got started on a provocative discussion in our letters and one of us felt the need to explore it further. I would be sitting at my desk in the evening working on some marking for the next day when the phone would ring at my elbow, and when I answered it she would say, “Hey, it’s me; is this a bad time?”
“No, it’s fine”, I would reply; “Will this be a long discussion?”
“Okay, can you ring me back in ten minutes after I’ve made myself a cup of tea?”
“For sure; I’ll do the same thing!”
And so as winter turned to spring, I gradually realized that I had made a new friend, even though we hadn’t seen very much of each other face to face. And as the Easter holidays drew closer, I slowly became aware of the fact that I was very much looking forward to seeing her again.
I was lucky on that trip: the good weather held, and I never forgot that first breathtaking flash of white mountain peaks on the far horizon as I travelled west on the main highway between Edson and Hinton. As I drove on, the mountains slowly came into view in all their majesty, with slopes of green sweeping up to snow-covered rocky peaks, and by the time I reached the national park boundary, about forty miles northeast of the Jasper town site, they were towering over me. There were signs on the winding road reminding motorists to drive slowly because of wildlife, and I saw a couple of elk and a few bighorn sheep before I finally reached the town site at about one o’clock in the afternoon.
Kelly lived on the west side of town, on the top floor of a three-storey apartment building with a wooded hillside rising steeply behind it. When I buzzed her apartment she came down to the parking lot to greet me, dressed in jeans and a thick Cowichan sweater against the cool mountain air; she gave me a warm hug and then stepped back, smiled at me and said, “Well? What do you think so far?”
“Stunning!” I replied.
“It’s really not bad, is it?”
“Not bad at all”.
“We had a little snow yesterday, but it’s mostly melted, as you can see. So what can I carry, the bag or the guitar case?”
“You take the bag, if you don’t mind?”
“A little protective of our guitar, are we?”
“Just a bit”.
Her apartment was small and simply furnished. There was a round dining table by the kitchen window, and in the living room a couch, an easy chair and a couple of bookshelves, with a stereo system against one of the walls and some family photographs on another. The spare bedroom was tiny, with just enough room for a single bed, a bedside table and a dresser, and a small built-in cupboard at one end. “I hope it won’t be too cramped for you”, she said apologetically; “I don’t often have company, so I didn’t bother to try for a bigger place”.
“I’ll be fine, thanks”.
As she had said, the view from her living room window was spectacular. “That’s Whistlers’ Mountain”, she said, pointing out a vast tree-clad slope towering over the town site, “and the white one behind it is Mount Edith Cavell. Then off to the left, if you lean forward a little, you can see Signal Mountain”.
“I suppose you’ve climbed them all, have you?”
“Not all of them; I’m not a real mountaineer. You need ropes and pitons to get to the top of Edith Cavell; that’s a little too much like hard work for me. I’ve been up the Edith Cavell Meadows trail – it goes up the ridge across from the mountain, you can see it to the left of the peak over there. But I’ve been up to the top of Whistlers’ a few times, and Signal Mountain too”.
“Why is it called ‘Whistlers’?”
“The first explorers through here gave it that name; they kept hearing whistling and didn’t know what it was. It’s actually the sound the marmots make; they’re all over the mountainsides around here. There’s a cable car that goes most of the way up to the top, but it’s not open for the season yet or I’d take you up there. It’s actually a bit of an awkward time for getting out on the trails”.
“Well, some of the trails are clear, but the ground’s still really wet and muddy, and some of them still have snow, but it’s soft and slushy – even snowshoeing would be hard work when the snow’s like that”. She grinned at me sheepishly; “Sorry – I should have made that a little clearer when I told you to come in the Easter holidays!”
“That’s fine; we can at least drive around and see some views, and maybe we can do a couple of walks, too”.
“Oh yeah, there are some walks close to town that have paved trails. And we could go down the Icefields Parkway to the Athabasca Glacier, although that’s a longer trip – about an hour and a half south of here. It’s well worth it, though; you can go right up to the toe of the glacier. The drive’s pretty spectacular; it follows the valley of the Athabasca River, so you’ve got mountain ranges on either side, with some amazing views. I might actually take you down part way this afternoon, if you like. We could go down to Athabasca Falls; it’s about twenty miles south of town”.
“So it’s a waterfall of some kind, is it?”
“Kind of. It’s actually a really deep and narrow canyon – just a few feet across – with the river at the bottom of it. It’s impossible for me to describe it; just take it from me that you should see it.”
“Well then, let’s do it”.
“Would you like a sandwich and a cup of tea before we go out?”
“That would be great; let me help you”.
“Everything’s ready; I had a pretty good idea of when you’d get here. I’ll just put the kettle on for a cup of tea”.
We ate a light lunch at the table by the window, and then she took me out in her truck, and we drove south of town about twenty miles to Athabasca Falls. As she had said, the road we were using followed the river valley, with high mountain ranges on either side, the deep green forests sweeping up the mountainsides to the grey rocky peaks, most of them still covered with snow that shone brilliant white in the afternoon sun.
When we got to the Falls we parked in a crowded parking lot and then followed a trail down to a series of bridges, footpaths and viewpoints. We stood on the first bridge with a dozen other tourists, looking down into the deep, narrow gorge where the Athabasca River thundered over the rocks far below. There was still plenty of ice down there, and I could see weird natural ice sculptures coating the rocks.
“You wouldn’t want to fall, would you?” I said.
“I guess not!”
We slowly made our way down beside the canyon, stopping at viewpoints from time to time to take in the scenery and, in my case, to take photographs. It was obviously a popular spot, and we were surrounded on the paths by tourists, some of them speaking languages that were strange to me. Despite the bright sunshine it was a cool afternoon, and I was glad of the wool sweater I was wearing under my spring jacket.
At the bottom of the canyon the river spread out wide again, flowing northward between tree-lined banks toward the town of Jasper; it was still mainly covered with ice, although there were wide open channels on each side. Kelly led me for a couple of hundred yards along the rocky shore, between the water and the trees; “Watch your step”, she said; “The rocks will be icy”. After a few minutes of walking we found a fallen tree trunk to sit on; I took a thermos flask from my backpack, and we drank hot coffee and watched the river in a companionable silence for a few minutes.
“Well”, I said eventually, “this is impressive”.
“I’m glad you like it”.
“Are you still skiing?”
“Oh yeah, there’s lots of snow yet up at Marmot Basin. Would you like to go up and have a look while you’re here? The views from the top of the ski runs are amazing”.
“Sure, but can you go up there if you’re not skiing?”
“As long as you pay your fare, they’ll let you ride the ski lift”.
“You could ski down, right, and I could ride back down?”
“I could, but that wouldn’t be very friendly of me”.
“Tell the truth, Kelly – you’d be itching to ski down, wouldn’t you?”
She grinned sheepishly at me; “Yeah, I would”.
“Well, then – yes, I’d like to see the view, but only if you agree to ski down afterwards and let me ride back down on the ski lift”.
“Oh well, if you insist!”
“Of course, it’s all dependant on the weather; we could wake up tomorrow and find ourselves snowed in”.
“Well, I’ll be glad of anything you want to show me. And if the weather’s not so good, I’ll be glad of your company”.
She smiled at me then, her face glowing under her tuque, our shoulders almost touching as we sat side by side on the fallen tree trunk. “It’s really good to see you, too”, she said quietly.
She made a pot of jambalaya for supper; “I’m pretty sure you’ve never had anything like this in jolly old England!” she said with a grin as she was cooking it on the top of the stove.
“You’re right”, I replied, peering into the pot; “I hardly dare ask what’s in it”.
“Well, there’s rice and chicken and sausage and shrimp, and a few interesting veggies and spices. It’s all good for you, I promise. Do you prefer red wine or white?”
“Red, although I don’t dislike white. How about you?”
“Red too. There’s a bottle in the cupboard by the fridge; do you want to open it up and let it breathe for a few minutes before we eat?”
When the meal was ready she carried everything over to the circular table by the window, we sat down across from each other, and she gave me an awkward smile; “Would you mind if I said grace?”
“Of course not”.
We both bowed our heads, and she spoke in an unusually quiet voice: “For health and strength and daily food we give thee praise, O God. Amen”.
“Amen”, I replied.
We were quiet for a moment as she spooned jambalaya onto our plates; she seemed to be avoiding my gaze, but then she looked at me and laughed. “I don’t know why I was so embarrassed to ask you about doing that; it’s almost as bad as if I’d started talking about sex!”
“I wasn’t embarrassed; have you always said grace at meals?”
“I didn’t for a few years, but I’ve started again”.
“I think it’s fine”.
“Do you?” She reached for the bottle and poured red wine into our glasses; “I was worried you’d think I was taking short cuts”.
“Yeah – I mean, we’ve talked about all the spiritual questions we have, and I was just afraid you might think I was trying to move too fast”.
I shook my head. “We both believe in God, even if we’re not sure about the rest of the Christian faith. I don’t see how saying thank you to God before a meal is such a radically Christian thing. In fact, I think I might start doing it myself; if there is a God, then it stands to reason that all this comes from him”. I took a sip of wine, and then ate some sausage and rice. “Mmm”, I said; “This is really good. Where did you get this recipe?”
“I found it in an international cook book; I like trying different things”.
“Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. So where’s jambalaya from?”
“It’s a Cajun dish, from Louisiana”.
“Well, it’s excellent”.
“What sort of food were you raised on?”
“Meat and potatoes and two veg, covered with lashings of gravy. And desserts were trifles and jellies, or puddings covered in hot custard”.
“That sounds so conventionally English!”
“Thank you very much; I’ll have you know that we were conventionally English!”
“Do you mind this sort of thing, then?”
“Not at all. When I left home and moved into Oxford I discovered ethnic restaurants – Indian, Thai, Chinese, and especially Italian; I’m quite fond of Italian”.
“I’ll have to remember that; I’ve got some Italian recipes in my book”.
“Maybe I can cook you something before I go home”.
“That would be great! What got you interested in ethnic restaurants?”
“Owen; his mum was a very adventurous cook and he was used to all kinds of different foods. At first I was hard to convince, but Owen doesn’t give up easily”.
“It’s funny to think of Oxford having ethnic restaurants; I always assumed it was such a quintessentially English place”.
“There are plenty of foreign students at Oxford, and they don’t all get instantly converted to potatoes and gravy”.
“No, I guess not”.
“Plus, it’s caught on with the English as well”.
After supper we cleared the table and washed the dishes together. It was still light outside, and when she asked if I’d like to go for a walk around town, I readily agreed. So she pulled on her Cowichan sweater, I put on my spring jacket, and we spent an hour wandering the streets. Many of the buildings were wood frame construction, and they reminded me of chalets I’d seen in the Alps on holidays to Switzerland and Austria. I mentioned this to her, and she smiled and said, “You’ve been to Switzerland and Austria?”
“Yes, but not for the skiing. My mum’s got a school friend who lives in Vienna; when I was a kid we often went there for a week or two in the summer time. I actually spent the summer there at the end of my first year in university”.
“Really? Doing what?”
“Staying with Auntie Pat, my mum’s school friend, and her husband Uncle Johann. They’re actually both musicians; they play with the Vienna Symphony. Uncle Johann was involved in the Innsbruck Summer Festival that year, and he got me a job working as an international host for foreign visitors. It was really fantastic, actually; I spent five days each week working in Innsbruck, and then I went back to Vienna to spend a couple of days with Auntie Pat and her kids”.
“She married an Austrian guy, I take it? I’m assuming Johann isn’t an English name”.
“Yeah, they’ve been married for quite a while. They’ve got two children – Hans is twenty this year, and Jana’s seventeen. They’re a bit like cousins to me, actually; we saw them at least once a year when we were growing up, which is more often that we saw some of my Masefield cousins”.
“They speak German in Austria, right?”
“How’s your German?”
“Not bad. I took it for five years in high school, and of course, I got lots of opportunities to practice it that summer”.
“You’ve never mentioned that when we’ve been talking to my grandparents”.
“I’m a bit shy about it, I suppose. And Low German’s not quite the same, is it?”
“No, you’re right”. She gave a little sigh, smiled at me, and said, “It must be so neat to be able to travel to foreign countries like that; Canada’s so big that it takes forever to get anywhere – unless you want to go to the States, and I see enough of that on TV”.
Wandering along the main street, we passed a tall totem pole beside the old Jasper railway station. “The road was only built in the forties and fifties”, she explained; “Before that you had to come to Jasper by train”.
“I see there are still trains”.
“Yeah, well, there aren’t that many passes through the mountains, and this is one of them, so the trains pretty well have to go this way. They’re mainly carrying freight these days, but you can still ride a passenger train through the rockies; it’s a tourist thing”.
“Have you ever done that?”
“Once; it was full of people speaking Japanese!”
We both laughed again, and she said, “Not that I’m knocking the Japanese; they contribute a lot of dollars to our local economy. Some of them are pretty bad skiers, too, so I get to fix up their sprains and broken bones”.
“I suppose you must get a lot of ski injuries?”
“We get a few”. I felt her put her arm in mine; “I’m getting a little cold”.
“Shall we head back to your place, then?”
“Okay. Maybe I can make some tea and you can play me some music”.
When we got back to her apartment she closed the curtains, turned on a couple of standing lamps, made a pot of tea and brought it into the living room. I was sitting on the couch tuning my guitar, and as she poured the tea I asked, “Anything in particular you’d like to hear?”
“I love your traditional songs, Tom; you know that. You must know hundreds of them”.
“Hundreds might be stretching it a bit, but I’ve got dozens, anyway”.
“So we’re in no danger of coming to the end of them for a while?”
“I don’t think so”.
“Good”. She handed me my tea and then sat down on the floor under the window with her back against the wall, stretching out her feet and cradling her mug in her hands. Earlier in the day she had been wearing her hair in a pony tail, but now she had untied it and let it hang free down her back. I looked at her for a minute, and she frowned and said, “Is everything okay?”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Kelly, but you are a beautiful woman”.
She blushed slightly, smiling with pleasure. “How could I possibly take that the wrong way?” she replied softly.
“Well, now, are we going to have songs about dying in battle, or murdered lovers, or drownings at sea? Oh yes, I can offer you drownings in rivers, too, for variety’s sake”.
“Drownings in rivers, please! Can you play that ‘Clyde Water’ one from ‘Penguin Eggs’?”
“I can, but I’ve arranged it a little differently than Nic Jones”.
“Well, let’s hear it, then”.
I played for her for about half an hour, starting with ‘Clyde Water’, then moving on to ‘The Rambling Siuler’, ‘Ten Thousand Miles’, ‘Tam Lin’, and ending up with a slow arrangement of ‘The Recruited Collier’. When I finished the last song I apologized to her for having forgotten a couple of lines of the lyrics. “The truth is, that was really Wendy’s song”, I said.
“The mysterious Wendy Howard?”
“Yes; she learned it from a recording by Anne Briggs, and then she taught it to Owen and me. I used to sing harmony with her, but I didn’t have to remember all the lyrics”.
“Okay, I get it”. She grinned at me; “Would you like some more tea?”
She refilled our cups, sat back against the wall again, and said, “Tell me more about Wendy”.
“Why do you want to know about her?”
She shrugged; “Well, you often talk about Owen, but you don’t mention Wendy very much. How did you meet?”
“We met at an open stage”.
“Ellie’s talked about going to open stages when she lived in Saskatoon; they’re kind of like a musical free-for-all, right?”
I smiled; “That’s not a bad description; they’re basically opportunities for any musician to get up and have their ten or fifteen minutes of glory. Typically they’re held in coffee shops or pubs; there’s usually a host who runs things, and musicians can come in and put their names on the schedule. You don’t get paid, of course – it’s just an opportunity to get yourself known a bit. Owen and I started playing at open stages almost as soon as we moved to Oxford”.
“And that’s where you met Wendy?”
“Yes, but not right away. We did our undergraduate degrees in Oxford, but she didn’t; she got her bachelor’s degree in London, then moved to Oxford to do her master’s, so we didn’t meet her until October 1980”. I took a sip of my tea, cupped my hands around the mug, and said, “There’s a pub in the Jericho area of Oxford called ‘The Plough and Lantern’; the landlord is Bill Prentiss, and he’s a big supporter of live folk music. He hosts an open stage every Friday night, and usually he has live music on Saturday nights too – sometimes with local acts and sometimes with visiting musicians. Owen and I played there a lot of Friday nights, and that’s where we met Wendy”.
“Was she singing by herself?”
“No, she was singing with her boyfriend, Mickey Kingsley. They were both from the same town in North Essex; Wendy’s dad’s a clergyman, and he isn’t especially wealthy, but she was a brilliant student and she’d earned a couple of good scholarships, so she was okay financially. Mickey’s dad, on the other hand, was a self-made businessman; he’d made his millions in London and then moved out to the country. He and his wife were trying hard to act as if they were the lord and lady of the manor or something, but the locals weren’t too convinced!”
“Yeah. Mickey’s a wild one, actually – he and Wendy met when she was sixteen, and she fell for him pretty badly. He likes loud rock and roll – he’s actually into punk and new wave – and he’s always had a motor bike”. I frowned; “Actually, Owen and I could never really understand what she saw in him; they didn’t seem to have very much in common. She was studying English because she wanted to teach it at university level – she loves English literature, especially Victorian novels. Mickey doesn’t read much except thrillers and true crime stories, and he likes spending his Saturdays at motor bike scrambles, but she prefers walking in the countryside. And he was a bit of a drinker, too”.
She looked at me curiously; “Sounds like she’d be more suited to you than to him”.
I shook my head; “No, they were pretty committed to each other. Wendy had this curious idea that friendship and love were incompatible; Mickey was her lover, not her friend, she said. We could never make sense of that one, either”.
She frowned; “You’re right; that is strange”.
“Thank you! I must admit I’ve sometimes wondered whether I was the one who was out of touch with reality on that issue!”
“No, I don’t think so, but I’m not exactly very experienced when it comes to love and romance, so you might not want to pay too much attention to my opinion”.
“I’m going to pay a lot of attention to your opinion, since it exactly coincides with my own!”
“Alright then!” she replied with a grin.
“Well, anyway”, I said, “getting back to Wendy and Mickey, we met them the first time they played at the ‘Plough’. He wasn’t really a folk musician, but he was a very good guitarist and she needed someone to accompany her. She was singing traditional folk music, like us, and I suppose that got our attention – that and her voice, which is really wonderful. Owen’s like you – he’s not backward about being forward – so after they’d finished their set he went over and introduced himself to them, and brought me in on the conversation too. Later on, when he and I were playing, he did something typically impulsive – he invited her up to sing with us, which is a bit risky with traditional folk music, because so many of the songs exist in all kinds of different versions. But luckily it worked out well – the versions she knew weren’t that different from ours – and everyone seemed to enjoy it”.
“So then the three of you started playing together?”
“We did a couple more impromptu sets together that month, and then Wendy decided we should have a real practice and see what songs we had in common. Like I said, Owen’s pretty straightforward, so he asked Mickey right out if he minded us playing music with his girlfriend, but Mickey said no, he didn’t mind at all – he’d much rather play punk and new wave with his band and let Wendy play with some real folk musicians. So then she became the third member of ‘Lincoln Green’”.
She laughed; “That was your name?”
“Yes – Owen and I were both at Lincoln College, you see, and then there’s the Robin Hood reference”.
“The Robin Hood reference?”
“Yes – the Robin Hood stories often talk about Robin’s merry men being dressed in ‘Lincoln Green’”.
“Oh, I see – and you two were robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, were you?”
I grinned; “No, but we both liked the Robin Hood stories, and Wendy didn’t object. Anyway, that’s the story of how we met her”.
“You must miss those musical evenings”.
“I do, actually. There’s nothing quite like them in Meadowvale”.
“I guess not. There are open stages in Saskatoon, though, and it’s not that far away”.
“I’ve never looked; I’ve been so busy all winter”.
She nodded; “I know what that’s like – I’m a teacher’s daughter, remember?”
“Of course”. I drank some more tea, and then said, “Speaking of you being a teacher’s daughter, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”
She laughed; “Hello – ground control to Major Tom – this is me we’re talking about, the up-front Kelly Reimer!”
I grinned; “Right, I should have remembered! Well, I suppose I’m just curious about your relationship with your mum and dad. I remember you saying that you didn’t leave Christianity out of rebellion against them, but it’s hard for me to imagine that they wouldn’t have been upset about it”.
“Yeah, they were a little – well, ‘upset’ probably isn’t the right word – ‘disappointed’, maybe? I don’t know; they never got angry or anything like that, and my dad and I had some good long talks about it. I’m close to both my parents, but closer to my dad than my mom”. She shook her head; “No – that’s probably a misleading way of putting it. My mom and I talk about lots of things, but my dad tends to be the one I have discussions about ideas with”.
“So you talked with him about Christianity?”
“Yeah; he’s actually pretty well-read when it comes to that sort of thing. But no – they’ve been very patient with me, and they never made me feel like I was any different from Joe or Krista – you know, because they stayed in the church and got baptized. They’re glad I’m feeling my way back to some sort of faith now, of course, although they don’t try to push me or anything”. She laughed; “Of course, I’m sure they pray for me all the time, so maybe the odds are stacked against me!”
I drained my tea cup. “That’s an interesting idea; I’ve never even thought about what it’s like to have praying parents”.
“Well, with your dad being an atheist…”
“Yes. Mum’s not – she believes in God, but I don’t know if she prays or not. I suppose most people do from time to time, but I don’t know if she makes a habit of it. Your parents do, I suppose?”
“They pray together every day”.
“I remember you talking about having family prayers at the table when you were a kid”.
“Yeah, that’s what they did with us when we were growing up. But now, of course, they’re by themselves, and they pray together last thing at night in their room”. She grinned; “Not that I know that much about what my parents do together last thing at night in their room!”
We laughed again. “Okay, let’s not go there!” I said; “Can I have some more tea?”
“Of course you can; I’ll make another pot”.
The next day the weather was fine, and we decided to make the trip down to the Columbia Icefields. We left in Kelly’s truck at about nine-thirty in the morning, heading out again on the road that wound its way south through the valley of the Athabasca River, with the jagged mountain ranges sweeping up on every side. At times the road ran very close to the river; at other times it climbed up the side of the valley to viewpoints that looked down on spectacular vistas from a great height. We stopped at some of these viewpoints to take photographs, leaning on concrete barriers and breathing in the clear mountain air. Kelly was dressed as usual in jeans and a thick wool sweater, with her hair pulled back in a braid, and I got several pictures of her smiling at the camera with the mountains as a majestic backdrop behind her.
We got to the Athabasca Glacier at around eleven. For the last few miles it had been visible on our right, a gigantic sheet of ice flowing down between two mountain peaks, and I knew immediately that no photograph would ever be able to do it justice, because no photograph could ever convey a realistic impression of how huge it really was. We turned off the road, parked in the crowded parking lot, pulled on our jackets and tuques and then joined the other tourists walking the last mile or so across the rock-strewn landscape up to the toe of the glacier. The temperature was noticeably cooler here, and the closer we got to the ice, the colder it became.
There was a rope barrier at the foot of the glacier, along with signs warning us not to walk on the ice unless we were with a guided party; apparently several people over the years had fallen into crevices and died of exposure before they could be rescued. Some of the tourists, however, were ignoring the signs, slipping under the rope and stepping out onto the surface of the glacier. I looked at Kelly and she shook her head; “I wouldn’t”, she said.
“That’s what I thought”.
We stood beside each other in silence for ten or fifteen minutes; I was just trying to take in the grandeur of the scene in front of me, with the huge sheet of ice sweeping down from the top of the mountainside, and a hint of the massive ice field behind it. After a while I felt Kelly slip her hand into my arm; “There is a God”, she whispered.
Eventually we walked back down from the toe of the glacier and found a rocky outcrop with a good view of the landscape all around. We sat down together, I took out my thermos from my backpack and poured coffee for us both, and we drank it in companionable silence for a few minutes, our shoulders touching.
“Coffee and mountains”, she mused as she drained her cup. “That’s a mark of genius, Tom Masefield”.
“Don’t you normally do that when you’re out hiking?”
“No, I normally just carry water. I’m not sure I’d want to carry a thermos on some of the climbs around here; I’m glad you’re carrying one, though”.
“Well, I’m glad to be of service”.
In the truck on the way back to Jasper, the conversation turned to Joe and Ellie. “It’s a funny thing”, I said, “but in all the conversations I’ve had with Joe, or the two of them together, I’ve never really found out much about her. I know she’s a dental assistant, of course, and I know she’s a musician; I know she’s from Humboldt, and I know she’s got a sister there”.
“You knew they met in Saskatoon, right?”
“Yes, and I have a vague memory that she wasn’t raised Mennonite”.
“No, she grew up in the United Church”.
“So did she become a Mennonite when she started going out with Joe?”
“No, actually, it’s the other way around. She’d gotten interested in Anabaptism through Mennonite friends she met in university, and she started attending First Mennonite church with them. That’s where Joe was going at the time, and they ended up in a Bible study group together”.
“Joe’s a bit older than her, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, there’s three years between them, but his vet course was a lot longer than her dental assistant course, so they overlapped for a couple of years”.
“And that was long enough?”
“I guess so!”
“She’s an amazing fiddle player”.
“Yeah, she used to play in a band when she was in Saskatoon”.
“A bluegrass band?”
“I think so; I never heard them, but I understand they were really good. Joe and I were in Saskatoon together for a few years, but he and Corey were sharing an apartment and I was staying with Bren, and we were living in different parts of the city, and of course, I wasn’t going to church at the time, so I didn’t see him on Sundays either. So I didn’t really get much chance to get to know Ellie, and since I’ve been living here, I’ve had even less opportunity”.
“Getting back to music, though, I know her band did some gigs in coffee shops and that sort of thing”.
“But they don’t play together any more?”
“I think they were all students, so when they finished university, they went their separate ways”.
She glanced at me with a grin; “I’m sure she’d be glad to be in a band with you, though, if you’re interested?”
I laughed; “We play very different styles of music. It’s not that I don’t enjoy listening to her stuff, but the learning curve’s pretty steep for me”.
“It’s good to be stretched though, right?”
I smiled at her; “I’m not surprised to hear you say that. I think I’m probably more of a creature of habit than you are”.
“A creature of habit who left his home country and everything familiar to him, and moved across an ocean to start a new life in a place where everything was strange to him”.
“Well, when you put it like that…!”
“Yeah – the truth is that between the two of us, I’ve got a suspicion that I might be the one who’s more wedded to habit”.
“Yeah, I think so!”
“But you left home, too”.
“I guess so; there wasn’t a university in Meadowvale, you know!”
“No, but you didn’t go back like your mum and dad did”.
“Not yet, anyway. And Mom and Dad didn’t go right back; they lived in Rosthern for eleven years first”.
“Rosthern’s so far away”, I said mischievously.
She glanced at me with a grin; “Okay, point taken”.
“Are you having your adventure, like Don and Linda when they moved to the Arctic?”
“I guess I probably am”. She frowned thoughtfully, and then said, “I think I needed to move away for a while. I’m actually a real home body, you know; I love Meadowvale and my extended family and friends and all that, and I think I needed to give myself a little space for a while”.
“A bit like that line from ‘Little Gidding’ again?”
“‘The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started…?’ ”
“ ‘…and know the place for the first time’ ”
She nodded; “Yeah, I guess that’s a pretty good way of putting it”.
We were quiet for a moment, and then I said, “Is Ellie’s family still in Humboldt?”
“Her mom and dad are. There’s just the two kids, Karla and Ellie; Karla’s in some sort of administrative job in Saskatoon, I think”.
“Does she have a family?”
“I’ve got an idea that she might have broken up with a guy recently. I don’t think they were married, though; I think they were living common law. But don’t quote me on that; I don’t think I’ve ever had a direct conversation with Ellie about it, I’ve just kind of picked it up from bits and pieces I’ve heard here and there. And I’ve certainly never met Karla, although I will in a few weeks for sure”.
“Right – at the wedding. That’s coming up fast, isn’t it?”
She grinned; “Not fast enough for Joe and Ellie, I think!”
“No, I suppose not”.
I was lucky with the weather that week; I arrived early Tuesday afternoon, and the sky stayed clear until Thursday night. We did our trip to the Columbia Icefields on the Wednesday, and on Thursday Kelly took me up to the Marmot Basin ski resort. She argued with me again about whether or not she should leave me and ski down by herself, but I insisted, so eventually she gave in and took her turn at the downhill runs. She gave me a wave before pushing off, and I watched her for a minute before I turned and went back to the ski lift for the ride down to the bottom.
Every evening after supper I played her some music and then we talked, mainly about Christianity. She had been reading a lot, not only in the Bible but other books too, and there were ideas she wanted to talk through with me. She was taken with an idea that Joe had shared with her, and she wanted to know if he had talked to me about it too. “Has he told you about this idea about learning by putting the gospels into practice?”
I shook my head; we were sitting at the table by the window in her tiny kitchen, with a half empty bottle of wine and two glasses between us. “What is it?” I asked.
“We were talking on the phone a few weeks ago. I told him I was still struggling with all sorts of doubts about who Jesus was, or is, and I didn’t seem to be able to get past that. He said something really weird”.
“What was that?”
“He said that figuring Jesus out isn’t just an intellectual thing. It’s kind of like marriage; you can only really figure it out from the inside”.
“That’s an interesting way of looking at it”.
“Yeah. I asked him how that worked, and he said, well, the best thing is to try to put Jesus’ teaching into practice while you’re trying to figure him out. He said, ‘It’s kind of opposite from the usual way we do things; instead of thinking your way into a new way of living, you’re living your way into a new way of thinking’”.
I grinned; “That sounds so crazy that I almost think I like it!”
“Yeah, me too, except that it has some pretty demanding implications”.
“I think I know where you’re going, but talk to me about it”.
“Well, when I asked him what that would mean in practice, he said, ‘Tell God that you’re trying to figure out who Jesus is, and ask him to teach you. Then start reading the gospels, and when you come across a command of Jesus, think about what it would mean for you to actually put it into practice. Then go and do it, as best you can’ ”.
I raised my eyebrows; “Jesus has some pretty strange things to say”.
“Yeah, but here’s the thing, Tom: Joe actually does that”.
“What do you mean?”
She shrugged; “I don’t know if you’ve read the gospels much, but for us Mennonites, that’s the part of the Bible we read the most. Think about this for a minute: do you know anyone who tries to live a simple life, without lots of possessions? Who tries to tell the truth at all times? Who always tries to treat others well, even when they treat him badly?”
“I see what you mean. Of course, I don’t know him half as well as you do, but it sounds like Joe”.
“It is Joe. He tries to avoid judging people, and he’s always doing free jobs for people who can’t afford to pay him much, which gets him into trouble with Ivor and Shauna a lot! And then, of course, there’s the fact that he and Ellie aren’t living together, unlike all the other young unmarried couples in Meadowvale, who’ve been merrily having sex with each other since the night of their first date!”
I grinned; “Well, I wouldn’t know anything about that, Miss Reimer!”
“Come on, Tom – you’re a high school teacher!”
“Yes, and so I’m the last person my students would think of discussing their sex lives with!”
“Well, trust me, I was a teenager in Meadowvale, and I sure felt like the odd one out”.
Suddenly she looked away, and immediately I knew what she meant. “You’re telling me that you’ve never…?”
She shook her head and looked at me; “Pretty sheltered life, huh?”
“Do you feel worse off for it?”
“Not really. I guess I’ve always been old-fashioned enough to think that love and sex should go together, and I’ve never really been sure enough about a guy to let him…”
“Well, then, that makes sense to me, and I don’t think it’s anything to be embarrassed about”.
“Not at all”.
She looked at me for a moment without saying anything, and then she reached across impulsively and put her hand on mine. “Thanks, Tom”, she said quietly.
“You’re welcome”. I smiled at her; “Well, that conversation took a turn I wasn’t expecting! Shall we get back to Jesus and the gospels?”
“Good idea! Well, yeah, I think Joe really does try to do what Jesus said, and so do my mom and dad in their own way”.
“So I’ve decided to give it a try. That’s what I’ve been doing”.
“How does it work for you?”
“Every night I sit up in bed and ask God to help me get Jesus figured out. Then I read a bit from the gospels, and if there’s anything that really strikes me, I ask God to help me put it into practice”.
“And has there been anything that really struck you yet?”
“Well, I started with Matthew’s gospel, so I got to the Sermon on the Mount pretty quick”.
“Turn the other cheek and all that?”
“I haven’t gotten that far yet”.
“No; the first thing that really struck me was the thing about being a peacemaker”.
“I don’t think I remember that one”.
“It’s in the Beatitudes; ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God’”.
“Why did that particularly strike you?”
She shook her head; “It’s a funny thing, but you’d be amazed how many petty conflicts there are in a little hospital like ours. People rub each other up the wrong way, and we divide off into little cliques and factions and gossip about each other; people bad-mouth each other and stab each other in the back. And sometimes, when I’ve been tired and cranky, I’ve let myself get sucked into it all”.
“That just sounds like normal life to me”.
“But I don’t think a follower of Jesus can use that excuse, do you?”
“I suppose not. So what are you doing, then?”
“Well, I figured that since this verse had kind of jumped out and hit me between the eyes, it might be something I was being asked to do. So I’ve been making more of an effort not to join in the arguments and the power struggles, and not to take sides when the petty conflicts break out. I’ve even told a couple of people that I’m not going to accept the ‘you can’t be my friend unless you share my enemies’ attitude any more”.
“My friend Kelly Reimer – nothing if not up front!”
“What can I say? I’m not very subtle, I guess!”
“So how’s it going for you?”
“I’m not sure yet. I know I feel a whole lot better, and I know that people from a couple of different little factions have talked to me and opened up about stuff, so maybe I’m being asked to be a sort of go-between, you know?”
“Be careful. Jesus might have added, ‘Cursed are the peacemakers, for they will get shot at from both sides’”.
She laughed; “I guess so, but I made a deal with God, and I sort of think I have to keep my part of it, you know?”
“Yeah – I asked him to help me figure Jesus out, and I told him that I was going to do my best to follow Jesus’ teachings while he did it”.
“And are you figuring Jesus out any more clearly?”
“Not yet, but I didn’t expect to get instant answers; a month isn’t a long time”.
“I suppose not”.
“Tell me honestly, Tom – do you think I’m crazy?”
I shook my head; “I don’t think you’re crazy. In fact, I admire you; I’m wondering if I’ve got the guts to try the same thing”.
“I wish you would”, she said softly.
“Well, for the past few months we’ve shared this journey together. I’d like to think we could still share it”.
I nodded slowly; “That is a very good point”.
I frowned thoughtfully. “You know, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me. I mean, unless I’m willing to do something like that, this investigating Christianity business isn’t really worth very much, is it? It could be a really fascinating study, like taking a university class, but that’s not what a spiritual journey is”.
“No, it’s not”.
“And when we started talking about this back in the Fall, it was because I’d seen how barren and fruitless the materialistic way of life was – that was why I wanted to find something better. A better way of living, not just a better way of thinking”.
“So unless I’m prepared to actually make some changes in the way I live, I might as well give up now”.
“Right, although I hope you won’t”.
“Oh no; all I have to do is think of my dad’s way of life, and I’m determined to find something better for myself”. I nodded; “Okay – I’m in”.
She grinned; “I’m glad!”
“Me too. So, are you going to go and get your Bible?”
“Are you backing out on me already?”
“Of course not!”
“Then I’ve got some catching up to do. What chapter are you in?”
“Matthew chapter five”.
“Well, then, we’d better read the first five chapters tonight, so I can try to make up for lost time”.
She laughed and got to her feet; “I’ll go and get my Bible right now”, she said with a grin.
On my last night in Jasper I told Kelly I wanted to take her out for supper at a nice restaurant. She suggested we go up to Pyramid Lake, about five miles out of town, and have our supper at the Pyramid Lake resort.
The weather was fine again that night, and we found ourselves eating by the window, looking out over a lake surface that was still mainly covered with ice, with the distinctive triangular shape of Pyramid Mountain rising up behind it. We had an excellent supper accompanied by half a bottle of fine red wine, and finished off with coffee as the light outside was fading.
I looked across at her as we sipped our coffee; “Have I mentioned that you’re looking very lovely tonight, Miss Reimer?” I said.
She smiled shyly; “You’re very kind, Mr. Masefield”.
“So, back to work tomorrow?”
“Back to work”.
“Seven in the evening. I work nights for the next four days”.
“Ouch; I don’t think I’d like that”.
“No, shift work’s the down side of nursing; goes with the territory, though”.
“Are nights busy?”
“They can be, especially Saturday nights”.
“Tomorrow night, then”.
She nodded; “It might be”.
“You know, we haven’t talked much about your plans this week”.
She shook her head; “No. They haven’t changed; my application’s in to work at the new Special Care Home in Meadowvale”.
“Having spent a few days here, I can’t believe you want to leave”.
“I want to go home, Tom; like I told you, I’m a home body. I know I needed to come here for a while, and I’ll always love Jasper and I’ll come back to visit as often as I can, but I miss my family and my friends”. She smiled at me significantly; “Including you”, she added.
“Me? I’m just a newcomer; surely I’m not in the same category?”
She shook her head. “No – you’re in a category of your own”.
I looked at her for a moment, sitting across from me with her head tilted slightly to one side, the ghost of a smile still playing around her lips, and it came to me suddenly that I could live a whole lifetime and never meet a woman as beautiful and passionate and true as Kelly Reimer.
“You’re pretty special yourself”, I said quietly.
“So when will you move?”
“I’m not sure; has construction started?”
“Not yet, but it’s supposed to start any day”.
“They say they’re hoping to be up and running by Thanksgiving. I might wait ‘til then, or I might just come home at the end of the summer and do casual work at the hospital until the job starts. If I’m successful, that is”.
“Are they interviewing for the job?”
“Yes – mid-July. Will you be around?”
“I think so; I’ve got no plans at the moment”.
“You’re not going back to England for a holiday?”
“No. Things between me and Dad are still pretty frosty; I don’t think I could stay at Mum and Dad’s. And if I went to visit and stayed with Owen – which would be easy enough to do – that would probably only make things worse”.
“Still no word from Becca?” she asked softly.
I shook my head; “No change, I’m afraid”.
“I’m so sorry, Tom”.
“I just have to be patient, I suppose. It might be easier if I lived there and could talk things over with her, but then again, it might not”.
“So you’re going to stay in Meadowvale for another year, then?”
I nodded; “I am”.
“I’m glad. I wasn’t sure; I know you told me there were things you really missed about England”.
“Yes, and those things are still true; I still love the English countryside, and the history, and the music, and my mum and Becca and Owen”.
“Of course you do”.
“But things have changed over the past few months; I’ve been making friends and feeling more settled, and I don’t think about going back very much any more”.
“No. Meadowvale’s grown on me, Kelly. And to tell you the truth, so have you”.
I felt the touch of her hand on mine; “I’m glad”, she said.
I left for Meadowvale around eight o’clock the next morning; I was planning to do the entire trip in one day, so I wanted to get an early start. The sky was a dull grey and the radio was forecasting rain or wet snow for Jasper before the day was out. I loaded my bag and guitar case into the trunk of my car, and then Kelly handed me a thermos mug of coffee; “That should keep you awake on the road!” she said with a smile.
“Thanks – I think I’m going to need it!”
I set the mug down on the roof of the car, then turned back to her. “This has been a wonderful holiday, Kelly; thank you for having me”.
She shook her head; “I’m so glad you came. I hope you’ll be back in the summer”.
“I will, but I’ll see you before then, at Joe and Ellie’s wedding”.
“You’re in the wedding party, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I’m a bridesmaid. I hear Joe asked you to be in the wedding party, too!”
“Yes, he really surprised me; I thought with all the family around…”
“Corey’s his best man, right?”
“That’s what I understand”.
She grinned mischievously at me; “I’m sure Joe asked you because he considers you a good friend; on the other hand, he might just have thought, ‘I’ve got to pick a best man and three groomsmen, and two of them have to be Finlays, and there are about twenty Reimer and Wiens boys to pick from for the last spot – better not to pick any of them!’”
We both laughed, and I said, “You might be on to something there!”
“Well – until the May long weekend, then. Don’t forget to write, and call”.
“Count on it”, I replied. I hesitated for a moment, and then looked her in the eye and said, “Talking to you is one of my favourite things about living in Meadowvale, you know”.
She held out her arms; “Come here”, she said softly.
I took her in my arms, and for a moment we held each other close. “You take care, okay?” she whispered in my ear, “and call to let me know that you got home safely”.
She stepped back, looked up at me and said, “Pray for me, okay?”
I nodded; “You pray for me, too”.
“I will, Tom”.