Days 40–49, September 3rd–12th: the Rocky Mountains (1)

Greenhouse gas emissions (CO2eq): 2,335 kilos (still working on it…)
Sigurðar saga fóts: 212/252

If, before my trip, you’d asked me to do a quick word-association for ‘North America’, it would have been topped by things like ‘Bush administration’, ‘Sarah Palin’, ‘Jesusland’, and ‘1% of the population currently in prison‘, pulling out of the stall at the last minute with glimmers of hope like ‘Obamacare’. Once I’d got all that off my chest, I’d probably have wandered through the names of various bands I like, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer references. Probably somewhere down about number 40 I’d have got to ‘Oh yes, there’s Canada too. Sounds like a nice place, shame about the tar sands. And the Queen.’ (Though oddly, even I feel more tolerant of her from over here. I guess putting a few thousand miles of ocean between us helps; as perhaps does the fact that on the money over here she dispenses with the crown.) Maybe around 100 I’d have thought of huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’, more or less next to the NRA, but also, to be fair, near the upbeat bit in Bowling for Columbine where Michael Moore explains that although Canadians have as many guns as Americans, they choose to shoot elk with them rather than each other. And somewhere below all the toing and froing of federal politics and pop culture, I’d finally have washed up at about 150 with ‘Sounds like they have some good scenery too’.

Really—despite my enthusiasm from camping and stuff, I have just never given much thought to what North America’s natural beauty might amount to, beyond an in-principle recognition that it has some, and ability to name the Grand Canyon and Jellystone Park. But seeing paintings by the likes of Lawren Harris in the AGO a month or so ago started to get me excited about what Canada might look like. And when, after meeting my motley collection of holiday companions in Calgary, I began my road trip through the Rockies, I started to be, like, WOW, this looks like how mountains look in PICTURES!

But then it properly hit me on the morning of Day 41, when me and the Goon (one of the motley companions) went for a morning run (!) in Banff. (It was his idea, not mine.) Banff is a touristy sort of place, but there’s no denying the amazingness of the surroundings; and although my whole trip in the Rockies has been sunny, the morning air was cold and clear; you could imagine for a moment that autumn might be coming. We didn’t really have any idea where we were going, but after running around lots of streets named after rodents (mouse avenue, marmot street, squirrel street, you get the idea), suddenly we’re running on this track beside the Bow River, broad and fast-flowing, and on either side you can just see these forested mountains rising up, and much more forcibly than at any moment on the trip so far, I suddenly and unexpectedly get that sensation of BLIMEY, I’M IN AMERICA!

I don’t think of myself as being much into Westerns; I have had the (in Old Norse circles almost proverbial) experience where a Generation X Old Norse lecturer says, don’t worry kids, it’s easy to understand sagas: they’re just like Westerns. *Looks expectantly at sea of faces, which return only vacant stares.* You know, like how there’s feuds and stuff? Or how the goodies wear white hats and the baddies wear black hats? *Students gaze blankly for a moment, and then all eyes fall to their desks and they frantically start taking notes.* Oh, er, you see, you know how in sagas, if someone’s going to kill someone else, they put on a black cloak? *Glimmers of recognition.* Well, Westerns are sort of like that. And you know how in sagas, the story’s all about settling a new land? And you get these powerful women in a male-dominated frontier society? *Scratching of pens gives way to nods of recognition.* You get them in Westerns too, you see. You should probably, er, watch some. They’re, er, a lot like sagas.

But even so, I kind of now realise that my childhood was pretty saturated with America’s great outdoors. I remember watching Westerns when they were used as TV schedule filler in school holidays, back before I was old enough really to understand plots; and bad TV versions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn on Saturday mornings before my parents were awake; and a time—more or less put out of my mind until the memory was jogged—when I’d be as likely to play at being a cowboy (making the Goon be an Indian) as being Robin Hood (and the Goon, on a good day, Will Scarlet; or on a bad day Guy of Gisbourne). I think I disapproved of Huckleberry Finn, but of course couldn’t help admiring him; and I guess somewhere deep down in the carbon-counting thirty-something, lodged like Daisy Bell in HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, is the role-model of this lad living in a barrel by some broad, fast-flowing American river, his only worthwhile possession a knife that his father gave him.

* * *

Edit: oh yeah, I just remembered! Champion the Wonder Horse! I’d forgotten all about that. Classic early ’80s, early Saturday viewing…

About alarichall

http://www.alarichall.org.uk
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