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Experience some Cabin Fever


Cabin Fever can be a good thing.

To celebrate our new partnership with The Banff Centre and to mark the closing of the competition for the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize, we are pleased to present three excerpts from Cabin Fever: The Best New Canadian Non-Fiction.

Authors Charlotte Gill, Taras Grescoe and Jaspreet Singh have all participated in The Banff Centre's Literary Journalism Program and these excerpts give you an idea of the excellent work that gets done in the Leighton Artists' Colony at Banff.

From "Eating Dirt" by Charlotte Gill:

Clear-cuts are illogical landscapes, lunar in their barrenness yet bristling with big texture. The bucked limbs, the twisted trunks and the rotten heartwood. The massive stumps. The logs worth less than the cost of the haul to market. Travelling through clear-cuts is an unstable, three-dimensional affair. Imagine a field piled thick with car parts, knitting needles, coat hangers. Imagine climbing through hurricane wreckage. Add slope and cliffs and waterfalls and weather. Slash is a forest’s post-mortem revenge, a sharp-toothed terrestrial sea. It’s not our fault but it might as well be. Every day the land takes a bite out of us.

There is a clear-cut in the Bowron River valley southeast of Prince George that’s the size of a small nation. The evidence could be seen from space. When we fly over the province we witness shaved slopes. When we drive, slash and stumps are a highway blur through the windshield. In B.C. we live among clear-cuts like people of the tropics live in the sugar cane. Cutblocks, they are called in the logging trade, like something you could snip at with scissors.

In our first years as treeplanters, the wooden carnage was shocking. The skin of the earth pulled back, underneath a sad, organic gore. A cutblock is monotonous, an endless field of broken and sunbleached wood. Monster homes, coffee tables, telephone poles, boat hulls, coffee-shop stir sticks, firewood, magazines, Kleenex. Half the world seems made out of wood, but a clear-cut is still dead boring. We wanted to cry, but couldn’t. Said we would quit, but didn’t. A numbness of attention crept over us, of the sort induced by megamall parking lots. There was nothing to jazz our rods and cones. We were growing up, paying taxes, burning holes in our own pockets. We were learning to see without seeing.


From "One Glass and You’re Dead" by Taras Grescoe:

This is the story of those who would seek to grasp a myth: collectors of spoons, eBay auctioneers, competing distillers of essences, and (not to exclude myself from the list of the covetous) territorial writers. The myth in question is liquid, and its pursuers are chasing a magic vial that, depending on the play of light, veers between iridescent blue, milky yellow, jaundiced green, and an opaque opaline. The names attached to the legend are suitably ominous: Grabkraut, wormwood, hogsmack, α-thujone, chernobyl. Only the term, absinthe —French for both the liqueur and the flowering herb from which it is distilled — is sonorous enough to seduce one to the river’s edge to drink.

I’ve wanted to try absinthe ever since I first saw its name in print.

It must have been in one of those stories of expatriate life that I devoured as a teenager. Was it an allusion, already nostalgic, to pre-war life in one of Henry Miller’s Parisian confessionals? A sensuous mention of a Green Fairy in a volume of Anaïs Nin’s diaries? Probably neither. By the time the Lost Generation made it to Paris and started their serious drinking, the belle époque idyll of poètes maudits and decadents had already been ravaged by mustard gas and shell shock, and absinthe had been banned in France for almost a decade. In 1920, the resourceful Ernest Hemingway discovered it was still available in Spain, a country known for its devil-may-care attitude to public health. “One cup of it,” the hero of For Whom the Bell Tolls recalled, “took the place of the evening papers, of all the old evenings in cafés, of all the chestnut trees that would be in bloom now this month. But a terse entry in one of Hemingway's journals was more suggestive of debauched youth-hostel antics: “Got tight last night on absinthe and did knife tricks. Great success shooting the knife underhand into the piano.”

From "Hotel Leeward" by Jaspreet Singh:

Departing the airport, we passed 139 check posts. I was still overwhelmed by the fact that the flight from Delhi to Srinagar had lasted a little over an hour. With my father, we used to drive twelve or thirteen hours on the narrow, dangerous road, a marvel of mountain engineering. The journey taught me words like “avalanche,” "landslide,” “nullah,” “khad,” “convoy,” “migraine,” “vertigo.” The most thrilling bit was the last leg. The convoy drivers would cruise through the 3 kilometre-long Banihal tunnel, the tunnel that fascinated David Lean, who featured it in his film, A Passage to India. The same tunnel reappeared in Salman Rushdie’s book for children, Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

Our jeep passed by the martyrs’ graveyard, then the Zero bridge and the silk factory. Waves of namaz, Islamic prayer, wafted out of the mosques and Sufi shrines downtown. Big-lettered slogans, in Hindi, served as reminders to the locals that they were under occupation. They were everywhere: on windowless armoured cars, military bunkers, bridges, and government buildings. Desh Bhaki, Desh Seva, Mera Bharat Mahan. (Patriotism. Selfless work for the sake of the country. My India, the greatest.)

Then it happened: a grenade hit us. Our jeep had slowed down to negotiate a speed-breaker. Out of nowhere a boy appeared, and hurled the thing so fast we didn’t have time to leap out. Se we closed our eyes and froze. There was a loud sound of a stone hitting rubber, then metal, and when I looked over my shoulder, the boy was running towards a line of mulberry trees. He stopped, grabbed another stone, and hurled it with incredible force, this time in the direction of the lake.

All excerpts from Cabin Fever: The Best New Canadian Non-fiction, co-published by Thomas Allen Publishers & Banff Centre Press 2009. Editors: Moira Farr & Ian Pearson.

Authors Charlotte Gill, Taras Grescoe and Jaspreet Singh have all participated in The Banff Centre's Literary Journalism Program and these excerpts give you an idea of the excellent work that gets done in the Leighton Artists' Colony at Banff.

For some more examples of exemplary creativing nonfiction, check out Wade Davis and Carol Perehudoff's stories in Boulderpavement 5. Boulderpavement is multidisciplinary, multimedia, on-line quarterly published by the Banff Centre Press.

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