April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
The Waste Land
This year, April seems to be full of death. Here in Toronto, the SARS outbreak is causing anxiety. People are dying from it, at a lower rate than first feared, but still, each individual is a person likely to be missed. Statistics don’t reflect true loss.
And overseas bombs are dropping, people are fleeing, aid isn’t reaching those who need it most. In some cities, anti-war protests are turning into pro-Iraq/anti-Semitic rallies. Intolerance is running high and individuals are dying from it. I encourage people to express their opinions, but no one should have to die for what they believe. In the back of my head I keep repeating the line from an old CeeDees song, I hope the world doesn’t blow up tomorrow. A form of prayer.
Spring is my favourite time of year, but this year it’s overshadowed by CBC news broadcasts. The first bombs were dropped just hours before I got on the train to embark on the Milds of New Brunswick mini-tour. Under the circumstances, I was relieved I’d decided to go by train rather than air. In transit, there was no news and I liked that, a blissful silence, a let’s pretend world where I didn’t know what was going on. Through the night we travelled endless miles of snowy white flats, wet-iced streams and trees black-shadowed against a wasted grey sky.
But the television in the Moncton train station was tuned to CNN. When Kathy Mac came to pick me up, she found me glued to the American propaganda station, shaking my head in disbelief. The first words out of her mouth were, “You don’t need to be watching that.” It was three days before I realized Kathy doesn’t have a TV. Smart woman. I listened to the CBC radio news a few times, but found I wanted to be thinking about other things.
The reading at the Attic Owl Book Shop in Moncton was a great success. We had a very attentive audience who enjoyed the reading and chatted with us afterwards. Next time you’re in Moncton, you really should check out Ed and Elaine’s store at 885 Main St. It’s one of the largest, friendliest, best organized, mostly used bookstores I’ve ever been in. Kathy drove us back to Fredericton that night. I tried to stay awake, to be an extra pair of eyes watching for moose on the road, but ended up passing out for a while.
We got off to a slow start on Saturday, but still made it to St. John early enough to have a look around and a quick dinner before reading. St. John is hilly with narrow streets and a wild system of elevated roadways entering and exiting town, so it’s virtually impossible to see that it’s nearly surrounded by water. The St. John Arts Centre is a great space used for performances and art exhibits. In all, there were five readers and a good-sized crowd. Another successful evening.
Sunday we were off to St. Andrews, Canada’s oldest seaside resort, and the weather was nasty. We were barely out of Fredericton when it started to rain, then sleet, then snow, then rain torrentially, which it kept up for the rest of the day. I could see that St. Andrews would be a really lovely place in the summer and I’m sure their seasonal population is widely variable. We read at the Sunbury Shores Arts & Nature Centre as planned, but the rain made for a small audience. We then drove up to the Algonquin, a resort hotel privately built in 1889 and later purchased by CP rail. The exterior is Tudor-esque and castle-like; the interior was reputedly used by Stanley Kubrick in filming The Shining. The drive home was somewhat less treacherous, as it was only raining and still daylight. I was glad of a hot shower when we got back though.
The travelling part of the tour over, we remained in Fredericton Monday and Tuesday. On Monday I delivered a lecture to Dr. McConnell’s Women Writers class at St. Thomas University. Although initially a bit intimidating, ultimately it was a very gratifying experience. The topic was my own novel, Swimming in the Ocean, and I was talking to a group of about forty people, all of whom had read it. At the end of the lecture, there was a steady stream of students asking me to sign their books. It was a marvelous experience and one I hope to repeat. That evening, I did a solo public reading to a small, but attentive audience, also at St. Thomas University.
I spent a good part of Tuesday taking a slow meditative wander through downtown Fredericton. Kathy had suggested I check out the walking trail that borders the St. John River. I scrambled up snow-packed stairs onto the footbridge that leads over the highway to the trail, but there was no trail. There was snow. It’d been melting at a furious rate, but was still at seat-level on the park benches. I gave up on the idea and, after exploring various shops and historic buildings, went back to the apartment. I usually go to galleries and museums when I’m in new cities, but I just wasn’t in the mood. I was feeling a strange agitation, perhaps the war I was trying to ignore, perhaps the need for spring air.
Tuesday night Kathy Mac and I did a one-hour live radio interview with Joe Blades of Broken Jaw Press. It was a relaxed event with chat and readings interspersed.
Even though Kathy and I have known each other for many, many years, this was the first time we’d toured in tandem. I’m hopeful we’ll find opportunities to do future events together, sometime, somewhere.
Wednesday morning I caught the bus back to Moncton, where I had a few hours to wander around before boarding the train home. Once aboard, I found I was tired and retired to my single room early, opened the bed, turned out the light and watched small towns emerge from vast expanses of wilderness until I fell into restless sleep.
photos by Catherine Jenkins
©Catherine Jenkins 2003