It was a warm summer evening in late July of 1979 when Alison and I first met. She and I both lived on the west shore of ShuswapLake near Salmon Arm, she in her geodesic dome hut and me about two miles away in a lakefront house. I had seen her a few times whizzing by on her BMW bike and once we had talked briefly at a pub in Sicamous. I had been playing in a band and she was with some friends. That night we established that we were neighbors and she suggested that I drop by sometime.
I had just wrapped up a two-year relationship and was at a point in my life where I was beginning to think that continued co-habitation with a partner might still be a long way off. From our first encounter, life with Alison became a series of challenges. Her competitive spirit, her inquisitive manner, her diverse intellect and her ability to physically give of herself completely and with total abandon intrigued me and satisfied my own needs for companionship.
Since I was not employed at the time life on the lake in the summer was about as good as it gets. We found ourselves spending an increasing amount of time together. We would go for long rides, frequently stopping at various pubs and quiet swimming holes as we encountered them. Alison had a penchant for nudity and I would find myself somewhat embarrassed by her public displays. When at home, at the dome, she frequently chose not to wear anything more than a skimpy T-shirt. Her freedom and her independence were two of her most attractive qualities. Most of the time she had an over-riding childlike spiritual innocence about her. I had to fight my own morals in order to not interfere with hers. In the end it was this fiercely guarded independence that would cause us to part ways.
Life at the dome was pretty easy and laid back. Alison had been working from time to time, I think it was something to do with a railway crew. But like me, she was not employed when we met. Mornings were leisurely, usually she would occupy herself with her artwork or we would both sun ourselves on the deck with a strong pot of coffee. Baseball, one of her great loves, was over for the season. After a late morning ride of we would return to the dome. Alison did not concern herself with traditional cooking, but she would always have an assortment of cheeses, breads and other finger foods that she enjoyed. Occasionally she would roast a couple of Cornish game hens stuffed with rice and served with other ‘normal’ vegetables. But this was the exception and not the rule.
Of course there was an ever-present jug of wine or other liquid libation and usually we would imbibe to excess. She would often become morose, seemingly lost in her past disappointments and pubescent horrors. At times she would talk about her childhood, growing up on the little farm north of Celista. She once told me of the old outhouse where she would deposit her brothers favorite toys when she was mad at them. I think that these times were her fondest memories. She would share this with me on occasion, but it almost seemed as though she was talking to herself, for if I asked her any pointed questions, she would become indignant and would clam up. So I just listened. It would seem that Alison had a happy normal childhood up until the time of the boating accident when her father drowned. She held many secrets within and try as I might to get her to talk about certain aspects of her life, the door was inevitably slammed shut. After the move from Celista, I think that she may have actually produced a dual personality. This is fairly common for children who lose a parent. It is a child’s means of escaping reality and requires therapy to overcome. I hold this to be true, having lost a parent at an early age. Alison certainly exhibited some of the signs of holding more than one personality for she could be as sweet, kind and thoughtful as ever one moment and the next she would turn into “the Beastie.”
She also held a death wish and it scared me to think that one day I would hear that she had succeeded. She often discussed just where she would ride her bike over a cliff, or just how far down a straight stretch of highway she could ride with her eyes closed. At other times she would, after an evening of drinking, run down to the beach, strip naked and swim far out into the middle of the lake. She might not return for over an hour, and then just as I was really getting worried, she would silently appear, her mood changed as if all her troubles had been miraculously washed away. She would press her cold body close to mine and we would lay in the night light until she warmed up. She wanted so badly to be rid of the demons but they would never leave her alone.
It is my belief that Alison had taken on some of the responsibility or had blamed herself in some way for the demise of her parents. In any event, she was a troubled soul and carried with her a great burden. After some time I knew that there would be nothing in my power that I could do to help her with this.
By early September I had moved out of my house and the band had folded up. I was “staying” in the dome but had needed to work, so I loaded up my van and headed north to the Stewart area where I found a job with the Highways Department for the winter. Alison and I talked on the phone several times and by Halloween she decided to come to Stewart for a visit. For about a week, she “holed up” in the bunkhouse with me. This caused quite a stir amongst the other single men there, especially in the showers. The cook, a matronly lady who took it upon herself to mother us all did not approve and it was only a matter of time before there were serious rumblings tearing at the fabric of bunkhouse life such as it was. Alison thought it was all pretty funny. She had become the center of attention smack dab in the middle of a group of single men and she loved it.
After having satisfied herself that she could cope with the remoteness and unique beauty of the area, (and with more than a little coaxing from me) Alison suggested that we spend the winter together. I bought a small cabin at the edge of camp. Alison made a quick trip back to Salmon Arm to winterize her house and then returned to Meziadin Junction. We took up residence in the little two-room hut, which was about 12 feet wide and perhaps 18 feet long. Soon it began to snow, the lake froze over and the whole area was transformed into a virtual winter wonderland. Although Alison made friends easily with the other women in the camp and she would sometimes spend an hour or two playing cards with one or two of them, she mostly spent her time alone enjoying the peace and solitude of a northern winter. She became inseparable from Rockette, my trusty malamute and the two would be seen almost daily, on long walks to the nearest café, 2 1/2 miles down the highway.
She also spent quite a bit of time working on her pen and ink drawings. In our little cabin, I had built a bed on stilts in order to create more floor space. The bed was about three feet from the ceiling and most mornings Alison would lay in bed and draw on the ceiling with her pen while the sun shone in the small window. She produced a mural of about 20 square feet. Anyone who could say that they knew her well would have understood its significance in her life. At other times I would return from my work on the highway to find her sitting at the table, pen in hand, a large bottle of red wine mostly empty and an incredible work of art before her. Once in a while she would feel enough satisfaction in her creation that she would pin it up on the wall for a few days. But mostly she either hid her work away from prying eyes or, depending on the amount of wine, she might rip her drawings from her book in a moment of anger and fire them into the wood stove. I was able to save a few and she offered me a couple as gifts. The rest, I believe, she destroyed.
Another of Alison’s passions was to do minute work on blown eggs that she would offer to her friends as gifts. She concentrated mostly on snakes and would cover the eggs in a myriad of twisting, writhing reptiles. I had several of these, however over the years time has taken its toll on the last of them.
One of her constant themes was the Rat. She was working on a series of Rat cartoons that she sometimes showed me, but again, she kept most of them locked away in her private belongings. Her sense of humor was not unlike that of “Larson” but there was also a darker streak to her personality that showed through her art. She often referred to her “rat” as Charlie, why I’ll never know. One morning, back at the dome, she decided with some resolve that she would become a tattoo artist of notoriety and create “Rat Tattoos.” We laughed about that one for quite a while.
Alison was an avid reader and was never without a good book. I think she had read most of the classics. Some of her favorite authors were Bertrand Russell, Gore Vidal, Hemmingway, Graham Greene and Steinbeck.
On sunny days at Meziadin we would walk down to the lake (which was virtually on our doorstep) and jig for trout and Dolly Varden through the ice. Since MeziadinLake is a salmon spawning lake, there was a good supply of salmon eggs that are a delicacy for rainbow trout. After half an hour or so of fishing we would have more than a meal of nice fat rainbows and then the larger and more ferocious Dollys would roll in to feed on the trout. Quite often we would pull out a six or seven pound Dolly and would find inside a one pound rainbow. Alison became quite versed in the art of ice fishing and would sit for hours on a sunny day pulling out rainbows and contemplating life. Her constant companion was Rockette and the two of them developed quite a bond. When I returned home from work she would have dinner ready and she was always proud of her catch.
We spent Christmas ‘79 holed up in the cabin. Having been to Stewart and Hyder to shop for a few things, we were well prepared. Although I had to work on Christmas Day, when I returned home we exchanged gifts, popped the Champaign and feasted on roast goose and all the trimmings. One of the things Alison had learned, was to do without until you could afford to purchase quality. I still have those gifts that she gave me.
MeziadinLake is situated in the coastal snow-belt. At the peak of the winter the snow piled up to about 20 feet. The local guys would ride their snow machines right over top of the roof of our cabin. Our cabin was at the end of a pathway that was over 100 feet long. Alison took on the duty of shoveling the path and was so religious about it that I never once had to do it. Each time it snowed she eagerly put on her furry boots and her warm coat and with an air of responsibility, set out to do her duty, which was no easy task. By the end of the season she had to throw all the snow straight up about 20 feet to get it over the snowbank. She would also dig out the cabin windows so that we had a little daylight.
Evenings were long. Although we had power in the cabin, most often we chose to use the coal oil lamps that were much more esthetically pleasing. We had two easy chairs, a small kitchen table and chairs and not much else. Most nights we would sit and read before thinking of something better to do, but when “Beastie” would show up, I would sit alone while she would work at the table, drawing and drinking until such time as she would instigate an argument of some sort or another. Although I would try to avoid participation, her talent for drawing me in would often be effective and we would begin taking shots and verbally abusing each other until one of us (usually me) had had enough. I would become so frustrated that I would either have to leave or I would climb into bed. The sparring over, she would join me, the Beast would subside and she would snuggle into my arms, demanding to be held until she fell sound asleep. It was as if she could not control the Beast and would be physically and emotionally drained after each of its visits. She seemed to accept the intrusions with resolve. I knew that once the demon had gone she was able to relax and that she felt secure in my embrace. At those times her true spirit cried from within.
One day, in mid spring when the mountains of snow had become hard enough to walk on, we packed a lunch and a bottle of wine and hiked straight up a nearby mountain. After climbing for about 3 hours we reached a sunny plateau were we spent the afternoon naked to the world on a blanket in the snow. We actually got pretty sunburned. It was on this one occasion were I felt that I met the true Alison. There on the top of a mountain, the lake and valley spread out below and the spring sun warming us to the core, I think she was able to clearly see her future. We talked about our relationship, how it had developed, where it might be headed. She told me about her brother who was always so level headed and who always had the ability to make the right decision. That she wished she could be more like him and like her sister; that they were so together in their lives. She talked about her other brother, of how she felt that she had sub-consciously shunned him and that she wished that things could be better between them. She told me about her love for her mother and about the hurt of seeing her fail. She spoke of how we might stay together and what she would have to overcome if she could ever settle into a lasting relationship. In a more playful manner she wondered what it might be like to simply fly from our perch on the mountain and just keep on going forever, like some disciple of Peter Pan. Although her mood was light, I knew that even then, free as a bird and without an earthly care she fought the demons within.
Alison spoke that day, as she had in the past, about a few particular visions that seemed to haunt her. She saw a middle-aged lady, sitting placidly with her purse on her lap, waiting. Waiting to die, waiting for a bus, waiting for a husband to finish his affairs. Simply sitting, clutching her purse, her destiny in the hands of someone else. She talked about a typical (what she called normal) family. A mom and a dad and a few kids playing happily together in a park. Everyone smiling at each other. But a dark cloud hung over their heads. A harbinger of impending dooms. She said, “How can they be so happy? How can they be smiling so much? Don’t they know? It’s not real. It just makes me sick! It’s sickening!”
Later on that day, with the sun’s heat beginning to wane, we stood at the edge of the little meadow in awe of the splendor of the scene before us. Silently she took my hand and held it for a long time. Then she folded into my arms and into a tight embrace. When we finally separated she had tears in her eyes although I had not felt her cry. Seeing that I had noticed she leapt over the edge and we slid most of the way back down the mountain on our bums as playfully as a pair of kids after school.
It was on this day that Alison seemed the happiest of all the time we spent together. Perhaps it was the freedom or maybe at that altitude she found herself away from her daily concerns and closest to her gods. As we descended I could see her mood changing and by the time we got back to the reality of the cabin she headed straight for the jug and all her troubles fell upon her once more. I knew then that it was the beginning of the end of our time together.
By mid March the lake had started to melt and the whole camp was beginning to sink into a mire of mud. We decided to return to the Shuswap and we moved back into the dome for a while. After a few weeks I went to the Toronto area to visit family and also to pick up a truckload of maple syrup to sell in B.C.
Alison wanted to come so we flew to Toronto, drove to Sherbrooke and bought a few drums of syrup. Then we spent the next few weeks at my parents home, bottling the syrup and visiting with some of my old friends.
Once we were ready to go, we packed the syrup into a van and trailer and headed west. As we pulled away from my folks place Alison made the comment that she would never see them again. Puzzled, I asked how she knew that. She again said that she would never see them again and wasn’t it an odd feeling when you knew you would never see someone again, ever. At the time, I thought that it was rather presumptuous of her to make the comment.
Somewhere west of Winnipeg we picked up a female hitchhiker who was also going to B.C. As we rode along we found that we had quite a few common interests. Later that night we stopped at a small roadside motel in Nowhere, Saskatchewan. Tired from the days of driving, I fell asleep while the girls went out to get some food and check out the action at the local saloon.
In the morning, after the usual pleasantries over breakfast, we parted company with the other girl and carried on our way. Alison later told me that she had been physically attracted to the other woman and asked me what I would have done if they had both returned to sleep with me. I said that in that event I likely would have done what any other red blooded male would do in that situation. After a while she became quite morose and sarcastic, accusing me of infidelity and acting as though she was in a jealous rage. She threatened to jump out of the moving vehicle and I finally had to pull over and let her blow off some steam before getting back in. Later that day she apologized and said that she had once been really hurt by another woman and that she wished that she had invited the hitchhiker to bed with us. God – she had a battle raging inside her!
We finally got back to BC and I began to travel around the province selling the syrup, returning home every few days to restock and relax by the lake. Baseball season was in full swing and Alison was playing two or three times a week. She was also looking for a job cooking in a camp so we didn’t see much of each other. I had to return to Winnipeg to exchange vehicles with my Dad and when I returned it seemed as though there had been a serious change in Alison’s attitude toward me. Although outwardly she carried on as if nothing had happened, I knew from her actions that we were very near the end of our time together. She was drinking every night and had met some new friends. One morning she announced that she wouldn’t be coming home that night. She would be spending the night with someone else and I might as well get used to it. I told her I couldn’t be open minded enough to accept that and wasn’t it an odd feeling when you knew you would never see someone again, ever.
Standing there on the steps of her dome, she took my hands, she looked deep into my eyes with sorrow and then tightly hugged me before getting on her BMW and riding off.
I concluded all my affairs in the area and left for the Yukon within a few days. Our paths never did cross again.
Seven years later, while heading out to Herald’s Park to camp with my son, I stopped at the dome. The weeds had overrun the place, the door was swinging open, the power lines cut. I knew then that Alison had finally been freed of the great weight that had been placed upon her. I heard later from a mutual friend that she had died, late one night while riding her motorcycle and I thought maybe she had had her eyes closed.
The memories of Alison have stayed with me all these years. Although the time she allowed me was short, it was unforgettable and I will always remember her, standing on the top of a mountain, or sunning herself on a frozen lake in the midst of all Nature’s glory, with tears in her eyes.