Saturday, October 18, 2008

Spiritual Fact , Spirtual Fiction

So, there she be. Chapter seven, up and running. That which was, by decisions of more publishers than I care to name, in higher places than I care to name, hidden from the eyes of the general, and even the theological, public, for a full couple of decades and more. Nice to see her out on her own, rambling through any part of the universe that can boast of an Internet hook up. It's hard to think of the computer communications network being any more energetic, lucid, and useful than Saint Paul of Tarsus, but it does get to zip around and about the universe quicker than he could. It took him years to get to Rome from the Levant. I get there - or anywhere - from the Kootenays as quick as click of a mouse. Can communications in Heaven be any faster?
Chapter seven was written in July, I think, in 1980, and it was unique amongst the first seven chapters in that it was not entirely fictional. All the characters up to that point, and therefore all the events, insofar as the events resided in characters, were, simply, made up. This does not mean that the spiritual events had not in essence occurred. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Spiritual events have been the norm of my life since I was a child, albeit not as regular then, nor as intense, and on reflecting on my mature years I can only say that my greatest difficulty as a story teller is to accept that ten times the quantity of fiction I have been allowed to write would be still only a fraction of the daily hum and rumble of the Almighty in my existence. The winter and spring of 1957 was no exception, and the story of its own self would be adventurous enough; and yet, in the peculiar way that those born to the novel have to think, I was moved to invent a framework, if only because I knew I was to be a novelist before I knew I had also to write an autobiography.
The essential elements of the Brock basement episode did indeed happen. There was a young man who dropped in while I was writing, and the job in the Chilcotin-Homathko wilderness did arise out of the endless inspirations of those days. But there was no Thurman Engineering in charge of the dam survey, and the young man did not go on into films, but into teaching college English, a noble programme from which he has recently retired. He came down to see me in the Pub rooms regularly, before he went off to his own summer job - I think timber cruising that year - for I already knew him quite well, and we did go up to the dear old Brock caf regularly for coffee. I think he was intrigued to see an aspiring novelist at work, and I was acquiring an increasing fondness for him and his friends, who were probably the most genuinely aesthetically conscious students I'd yet to meet. The university newspaper group were wonderfully interesting, but they were for the most part inclined to journalistic thinking with its inevitable passion for politics. These things, like the law, are necessary and useful, and certainly not without drama, but they are not equivalent to poetry and those who think they are inevitably wind up coarsened by their own convictions. The young man and his cronies also knew well the young lady I was to run into eight months later, and this would have added a mysterious, very well hidden, element to the mystique of it all. The spirits were enormously active, and enormously provocative to deep thinking; and trying to write the truth rather than according to a slickly positive, or tediously pessimistic, formula, without any other pressure from work or outwardly imposed study programme, contributed infinitely to helping them along. I knew I didn't have much of a plot, and I also knew I was seriously short of a vocabulary complete enough to describe all that I was experiencing, but I had every confidence that if I plugged along on my present route I would find both in their own good time.
I was not yet keeping a journal, so I don't know the precise date of my one sunny morning rising from the typewriter to walk over to the student employment hut. It was toward the end of April, that I do know. I walked through the door and swiftly found a sheet of paper, tacked on the notice board, asking for the lesser bodies for a survey crew, chain men and axe men, that was to spend the summer in the Homathko watershed, entering through the western Cariboo. There was another location offered to, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, but I was so charged by the thunderous coincidence of the Cariboo opportunity that it is possible that had all the places there been taken up, I might not have been at all interested in the Island job.
For a full year- a long time in the life of a twenty-one-year-old - I had been running on intuition, and that had served me very well, so well that I regularly wondered when it might all come crashing down and leave me back in my old, at least externally, rather chained estate. My father had even ventured to warn me, when I asked for a meeting to explain why I had left law school, that I might never find another job, and of course the devil loved to use that line of reasoning in the days - or rather nights - when I had left the law buildings and was totally devoted to studying on my own. I don't think my Dad really believed his own threats, because he knew his oldest son was simply too energetic and too smart to ever be "out of work" except by his own choice. But he had his dreams, and I was busy kicking the crap out of them. I think this had started the day I decided to join the Ubyssey and had been furthered by my joining the staff at the Vancouver Sun, the newspaper of the unions. (It was also owned by Catholics, the Cromie family, but whether or not this figured in those parts of his mind which were still Scots-Irish I do not know.) Also, for a man who had never really passed through high school, whatever the education the army conferred on him during the war because he was, by nature, actually a good teacher, he had an enormously irregular estimation of himself as a student of psychology through his study, as by then a personnel manager, of the texts related to that very low level of analysis of the human predicament.
And now here was the Cariboo, falling in my lap. The Cariboo, with its profoundly evocative history in the family, even though I had never seen that part of the province's Interior. The Okanagan, yes, especially the northern parts, and with some rambling into the very south in the weeks with the railway mail car that passed through Kamloops. But not the Cariboo, the setting of the first inflaming episode in the legends my grandfather told me, heard when I was still a tyke; or the location of my father's famous summer when he was twelve and his dad was developing a gold mine; and, finally, the scene, in the very northern part, of Rich Hobson's "Grass Beyond the Mountains", the story of his founding of a ranch south of Vanderhoof, the only book which ever tempted me to run away from home. The only situation of any kind, for that matter, which shows that I basically had it pretty good under my parents' roof, until it was time to leave it.
I never thought of it then as a kind of perfect revenge, on God's part, of the paternal nonsense. But I did see it as an enormous confirmation, to me, of the rectitude of my professional choices, and I was delighted when the man behind the desk, a very pleasant gentleman named John Hicks, signed my up for the adventure of a life-time.
Because I had barely studied any philosophy, and in real fact nothing like the core of a sound Thomistic or Scholastic programme, my then entire search for proofs of God's existence were - I can call them now - Existential. Saint Francis de Sales, as I was to learn some years later, says that the will of God is scarce known except by events. I sometimes believed, then, that the existence of God was scarce known except by events, and the Homathko job was just that sort of event.
What else could it be? The previous summer, I'd experienced the sense of my life as a complete failure unless I was able to spend one more summer working in the woods. This from reading one of Hemingway's short stories. It was a warning, a promise, and Mr. Hick's offering was the fulfillment.

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