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Close Encounters with Science: Picks

Close Encounters by Caroline Woodward

We lived at the top end of an L-shaped piece of land in the north Peace River region. To get to the Co-op, Dad drove our team of horses along a narrow dirt road, across a steep-banked coulee over a gap-toothed wooden bridge and finally on a proper gravel road for six miles. The springy Democrat buggy was a better ride than the steel-rimmed wooden wheels of the grain wagon could offer in summer and in winter, the caboose was better than the wagon box open to the elements, even though the box was moved onto sleigh runners. 

I can still see us all on the bench in the dark caboose, with hot bricks wrapped in grain sacks at our feet, the little wood heater glowing and the end of Dad’s hand-rolled cigarette glowing too. He stood and drove the team with a round hole in the wall of the caboose to see through and another for the harness lines to come through. There were no sounds except the squeak of the cold, dry snow beneath Babe and Brownie’s hooves and the long sleigh runners gliding along below us, the gentle rocking of the caboose, wood on wood, as we rounded corners and small clunks from within the wood heater. 

When I was in Grade One, Dad bought a John Deere tractor and the horses were retired from hauling ploughs, harrows, seed drills and grain binders around our fields. In Grade Two, Dad drove home from Fort St. John in a 1953 Chevrolet car, white-knuckled down the steep and winding Beatton River hills. In Grade Six, we were told to use ballpoint pens instead of ink pens, with which I enjoyed the art of cursive writing. Thanks to a blizzard, my Dad couldn’t get to the Co-op so I was the only kid in the classroom happily writing with my ink pen, the nib slanted at a perfect angle, one day past the deadline. 

That spring, there were meetings in the Hall about electricity but for the poles to cross our neighbour’s land to reach us would cost five thousand dollars. That summer, long trucks came to our farm and men loaded our house, barn and chicken house onto the flat-decks. We opened and closed five gates, running beside the trucks until we arrived at the toe end of the L.

Our house was set down over a new root cellar only forty feet from the main road where a tall hydro pole already stood. Within days, the wiring was complete. Mom turned on the switch and a bare bulb gleamed overhead. She plugged in a pink table lamp with a plastic orchid on it, our neighbour’s gift. She walked from room to room, turning on the lights, her face glowing just as brightly. The new deep freezer cleared its throat and hummed to life.

“Oh,” said my mother. “It’s just like a miracle. Maybe a washing machine next?”

Later, I looked up the word ‘miracle’. Close enough. 


Caroline Woodward is from Tofino, BC

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