The train glides out of the station. The ride is so smooth I might be seated in my living room but for the gabled shops of Banff slipping away in the mist. My husband takes my hand as we gaze at the broad hips of massifs hunkered down on all sides, their timbered shoulders and icy domes only a brochure’s promise until the threatening weather clears. I can’t stand the idea the view might not open up. I gaze skyward beseeching spirits I no longer believe in to lift the clouds, while our dainty cook, Charlotte, whose prim British accent is at odds with the strawberry curls dancing from the edges of her frothy white cap, delivers mimosas. Despite the topographic extravaganza outside, our course is so level and straight only the bubbles in the glass move. I sip.
What a difference a couple of centuries make. After a hellacious expedition in 1808 into the uncharted interior of British Columbia, Simon Fraser’s diary reads, We had to pass where no human being should venture. Canadian Pacific Railway titans had an entirely different perspective of the remote terrain in 1885 when they connected B.C. to the rest of Canada. With astounding prescience as the last section of track was laid, the president of the company declared, If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists. Today we join a stream of visitors coming ever since for the privilege of experiencing Fraser’s wilderness.
I shouldn’t have been shocked by my parents’ appearance. We share a love of untamed mountains that springs from cherished memories as a young family exploring rugged Central Pennsylvania, a landscape carved by ancient glaciers into the peaks and plateaus of the Allegheny Mountains. Decades ago, on a smaller scale than these Canadian beauties, the Alleghenies formed the backdrop of our four small lives as my father hauled us from our home outside Pittsburgh to work assignments throughout the highlands.
Riding up and over ever-steeper hills, rolling around tight and tighter curves on remote two lane roads, my sister, Joyce, and I prized all the seatbelt-less pleasures the back of a station wagon held in those days: pillows and blankets piled high to form a play-house or a cozy napping place; deer-spotting in the dew-kissed fields at dawn; and unfettered access to the goodies packed in the ice chest—usually followed by car-sickness. Over the years we threw up from Oil City to State College, left a trail from Titusville to Tidioute. We had no drugs for allies, and fought the nausea as best we could, petrified by needless worry that next time we might be left behind. We distracted ourselves by telling stories and playing games, and listening to the front-seat banter. It went something like this:
Joe, Joe! Look at all those cows.
Over here! Slow down, you’re missing all the scenery.
I can see just fine. Look at those mountains, will ya?
He’d be nodding toward two beautifully symmetric, glorious green pinnacles in the distance, and she would say, How about these? and pull up her bra, displaying her own impressive peaks. His head would jerk in her direction along with the steering wheel, while he reached over, unsuccesfully angling for a squeeze before she tucked them away. She would shriek and he would swerve, cackling with hilarity, while Joyce and I wondered whether we’d end up in a ditch. I laugh out loud imagining their shenanigans here as attendants serve scones and jam on fine china. My husband gawps at me. I wave him off.