Monday, May 24, 1999
Morning just about started with Sandy’s husband, Pat. I was sitting on a large indoor balcony overlooking the lobby when he came up to adjust the radio.
“Sorry,” I said. I’d turned it down.
“Not a problem. Only wanted to make sure it was on.”
He tweaked the volume slightly, giving low-tech music to the registration desk below.
“Great place,” I told him. “Must’ve been something to build.”
He laughed, almost modestly. “I mainly did the figuring. Kid from town dragged in all the logs.”
Pat seemed to be in his early thirties, no older than Sandy. I wondered how young the ‘kid’ could be.
“How’d you think to start?” I asked instead.
“Well, actually, I’m a cook—a caterer, really. I’ve been doing it for years, all over the place. But I was just getting by, and rents in town kept going up. Jobs weren’t getting easier, either, and I finally figured, if we were ever gonna make it, we’d have to do something different.”
“Looks like you were right.”
“Yeah.” He laughed again. “But I didn’t think we’d get this kind of business so fast, not all at once. Though I knew the road was busy—14,000 cars a day, in summer.”
“Where they all going?”
“Any have houses here?”
“Nah, they’re just passing though.”
“How many people live here year round?”
He needed to think: “Maybe a thousand. But they’re all spread out—you’ll never see ’em.” He grinned. “Like Peggy. She lives by herself, up in the hills. And she must be ninety-nine.”
“Nope. Three years ago, she fell and broke her hip. Somehow managed to drag herself to the house, and still couldn’t call for help, not right away. Had to wait for her cell phone to charge.”
I was puzzled. “Why a cell phone?”
“Too far for wires.”
I’d never thought of that and laughed. “That’s the first good use for cell phones I’ve heard.”
He nodded. “Still, everyone figured that was the end. For Peggy, I mean. But she was right back out there, in less than a year.”
“She have people to check on her?”
“We talk, at least once a week. And she has other friends. Still, she had cancer last winter and everyone thought, that was absolutely it. Then she went right back out.”
I grinned. “I’ll never make it to ninety-nine.”
“Me, either. But Peg’s been here since the ’30’s, so she’s seen worse. She’s really amazing, actually—worked as a rancher, a school teacher… you name it. I once asked her how she found time to read, working that hard—she seems to know everything. Told me she used to put a candle in a sardine can at night. Balance it on her chest.”
“Lucky her books didn’t catch fire.”
Pat started to laugh, but then Sandy came up the steps. “She’s ready to leave if you want to say good-bye.”
“Peggy?” I asked.
“Nah, my daughter. Peggy figures the next time she comes to town, it’ll be in a box.”
As I laughed, Pat and Sandy went downstairs to see their daughter. She was seventeen, had just finished school, and was moving to Banff to work in the tourist hotels. Following along, I ran into Tom.
“Look me up,” the daughter told us shortly, when Tom mentioned where we were headed. I said we might, but didn’t figure we’d wreck her first days of freedom. Her younger sister, maybe twelve, was standing near us on the front porch, crying.
“It’s the first time they’ve really been apart,” Sandy whispered. “And she wants desperately to go along.”
“Soon enough,” Pat sighed.
Tom and I left not long after, mainly staying for breakfast. We had a long drive ahead, though mostly through plains, certainly no competition for yesterday’s mountains. Still, there were some surprises, the first being a combination farmers’ market-children’s zoo. ‘Pet The Animals!’ the hand-lettered sign demanded, but I preferred to keep a distance. There were cows, chickens, pigs, rabbits, goats, ducks, turkeys, sheep—even peacocks and ostriches. Most impressive were the turkeys, strutting, and all puffed-out. Males, of course. I’d never seen them that way, though Ben Franklin was all wrong, wanting them as our national bird: The feathers were fine. The swagger almost presidential. But the heads were ugly as Darth Vader.
A second stop was Roger’s Pass, still snow-filled, if thawing. We’d wanted to walk on a glacier, though my mom, who’d been there a year earlier, had warned us of sudden, tourist-snatching crevices. “Take the bus,” she’d advised. “They ride on huge tires.” A ranger killjoyed even that, almost gleefully informing us the parks were mostly closed. “Closest glacier’s a five-hour hike,” she grinned, handing me a pamphlet.
Maybe sometime warmer.
Roger’s Pass was mainly famous for being the first route through the Canadian Rockies. It was a big thing a hundred years ago, and in the late 1800’s wealthy people from all over the world traveled to ride the newly-completed railway: Snapping the first Brownie pictures. Buying stereopticon slides. Then winter came, and the train was crushed in an avalanche. Surviving rich folk scrambled back to the south of France.
We bought postcards and a three-toned wooden train whistle destined for a friend of mine’s son. It came shrink-wrapped, but I just had to peel that off, and blow the damn thing—I couldn’t help it. We were in the truck, with both doors closed, and the dog quickly turned mean.
“Put that away,” Tom insisted. So it got harmlessly stashed in the glove compartment.
The main reason we were taking an especially long drive that day was I’d been telling Tom about Lake Louise since before he’d decided to go on the trip. I’d heard about it as a kid, often, because my great-aunt had spent part of her divorce tour there. I’d even seen it before, traveling soon after college. And we’d veered well north of the American border just so I could see the lake again—it was that impressive. Mainly, for it’s color: the water’s an astonishing aqua. But it’s dense, clouded, absolutely frigid-looking, because the lake’s glacier fed. In both L.A. and the Roger’s Pass gift shop, I’d showed Tom pictures of the water. Still, in photos the color seems so deep, it’s almost like a trick. I’d hoped to get there early enough to convince us both it was true.
We just made it. After quickly finding a motel that took dogs, we snapped ours on a leash and hurried toward the lake. The evening was clear. There was still a half-hour’s light. But even before we reached the shore, I started laughing. Tom couldn’t figure it out. Maybe he thought I was just happy to be there—lots of other, often dumb, things crack me up. But when we finally came over the last rise, something that should’ve been obvious from all the ranger’s talk about late spring finally hit. Big. Beautiful, World Famous Lake Louise was dead grey. And still frozen.