Wander… let me wander

Another travel piece for Northword magazine from April 2008.  I travelled a lot when I lived in Northern BC.


Wander… let me wander

By: Russell Bowers

There’s an old Wilf Carter recording that used to get played in our house a lot when I was a kid. “Where is my wandering boy tonight,” the cowboy singer would warble through the monaural speakers of our woodframe record player.
My mother would then wonder aloud about a cousin or uncle or someone she had in mind at the time.
She might wonder that about me these days. Every now and then she’ll call and find me in Vancouver or Toronto or Calgary.

This past winter, her phone calls found me in Fort St. John and London, England. Now before you admonish me for not calling home more often to report my whereabouts, keep in mind that it’s a son’s job to worry parents. It’s right up there with forgetting birthdays and buying motorcycles.

Fort St. John and London are as far apart in culture as they are geographically, but for me, at least, they have one thing in common— my thought that “I could live here.”

Now, to be honest, I think this no matter where I go. I’ve thought it in Dawson Creek, Terrace, Smithers—heck!—even Bijou Falls has a shot with me.

If I was like TV’s The Littlest Hobo and had the courage and food supply to wander up and down life’s highway, I would do it forever. I’m not a traveler, as such. I don’t pine for all-inclusive resorts or remote safari adventures. I have too timid a constitution for that, and the culture shock would do my head in. But short habitations in places I’m comfortable with is right in line for me. I’m the wanderlust equivalent of a cheap drunk—one day of sight-seeing and I’m anybody’s.

When I was last in the Peace, I was there to take part in a community public reading of A Christmas Carol in Fort St. John, and the travel arrangements gave me the chance to get there a little early. When I looked out my hotel window, the bright lights of the Energetic City were displayed before me, and I looked forward to spending the next day walking around town.

On this trip, my inner Easterner was sated by the sight of a Sobeys grocery store, and I roamed around it for the sheer joy of seeing their familiar logo. It seems that I can even be sentimental for a grocery store! (I’m not sure which definition of sad this registers with.)

But just so you know that not all my sympathies are corporate, I did get a kick out of the historical photo kiosks up and down the main drag between my hotel and the North Peace Cultural Centre. If there’s one thing I really get a kick out of seeing, all over Northern BC, it’s all the historical pictures. I really do!

I love seeing how streets and buildings used to look. I think it must be practice for when I’m 80 and I’m driving slowly in front of a young whipper-snapper because I’m busy surveying the landscape trying to remember what used to be there.

However, when it comes to historical photos, I suppose it isn’t a surprise to anyone that London has, shall we say, quite a few.
Forget kiosks! Entire buildings are given over to housing vintage snaps. My trip to my motherland was entirely personal and I didn’t really go there to do all the touristy things. I wanted to just hang out—take in the local colour and atmosphere and see what it might be like to live there, should the mood ever move me to try.

Comparisons and contrasts between Fort St. John and London is a column all itself, and probably a pointless one, but I will say that folks in Fort St. John were way friendlier. I will concede that it might have something to do with the greater number of people there who know who I am. London does get points on the small matter of having a few more theatres, and they have a really neat river.

Ah, but does London have a Sobeys?  No, it does not.