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Thursday, September 22, 2016
On the edge of civilization
“McDonald Creek,” by Carol L. Douglas
I’ve seen Mary’s headache, malaise, and swollen neck before. Her older sister had mononucleosis in college and looked and acted the same way. When Mary’s tonsils started to swell, I decided to make quick time to a medical clinic at Ft. Nelson, BC.
Three minutes and $70 later, Mary exited with a scrip for penicillin. No blood tests, no swabs; the doctor took a quick look in her mouth and announced it was tonsillitis. Penicillin won’t hurt the girl and might actually help, so we had it filled. Mono is untreatable anyway.
Mary took a nap in the sun while I painted.
My husband asked why I didn’t see the doctor myself, since I’m still hacking. I just have a cold, I answered. For less than the cost of penicillin, I can rinse my mouth with Alberta rye whiskey. If it doesn’t cure me, at least I won’t mind so much.
Fort Nelson is on the east slope of the Rockies. It seems positively cosmopolitan compared to where we’ve been. Some women have tri-colored highlights in their hair, all in the same gingery tones. That, I presume, implies a beautician in town. There is clothing other than camouflage, although the Super 8 where we’re staying does have a sign asking visitors to remove their muddy boots.
Trail riders are a common site in northern British Columbia.
Hayfields and buildings appear sporadically along the road into town. The tree cover looks more familiar to my eastern eyes. Mixed forests of predominantly deciduous trees cover the lower slopes.
Today we will follow the Alaska Highway to its starting point at Dawson Creek. This will take us down into the prairie land of Peace River Country. This area was explored during Sir Alexander MacKenzie’s journeys of 1789 and 1792-3. The latter was the first east-west crossing of North America north of Mexico, preceding the Lewis and Clark expedition by 10 years.
Like so many great American explorers, MacKenzie’s goal was to find a water route across the continent—the fabled Northwest Passage that beguiled the Vikings, Cortés, Sir Francis Drake, John Cabot, Henry Hudson, LaSalle, and so many others. MacKenzie, however, managed to reach all three great oceans that surround Canada, and his explorations took him on the longest possible route, for the continent grows wider as it goes north.
My main companions yesterday were bears, not hoofed things. It’s almost time to hibernate.
Our prairie time will be briefly interrupted with a slight detour into Banff and Jasper National Parks this weekend. After that, I’m hoping to make better time. A flatter road will be nicer on the old hooptie, which seems to have sprung another exhaust leak. Poor old thing. I’m not sure who’s suffering more, the car or Mary. I’ll push the liquids at both of them.