Sulphur Mountain from dg’s bedroom window, Banff Centre
The past week and a half I’ve been at the Banff Centre, surrounded by hysterically looming, steroidal mountains, teaching nonfiction in the Emerging Writers Intensive program along with Elizabeth Philips (poetry), Jennifer Haigh (short fiction) and Rachel Cusk (first novel chapters). Here is a picture of us all. Cascade Mountain on the left and Tunnel Mountain on the right behind us.
The mountains totally intimidated me as did the signs all over campus indicating that bears were plentiful and dangerous and that the elk were rutting and that I should avoid male elk especially (I had some serious fears in this regard), although, as it turned out, we saw no bears or elk (no doubt they were off rutting in private instead of parading their lubricity in the streets).
An enterprising person in my workshop early discovered the Park Distillery downtown, which soon became a regular meeting spot for intense literary discussion, manuscript critiques, and philosophical debate. We had so many philosophical debates there that my class gave me a bottle of the Park Distillery’s homemade gin (best with Fentiman’s botanically brewed tonic water) as a bon voyage present.
Some of us were going to walk up Sulphur Mountain one afternoon after workshop, but the weather turned indifferent and we strolled along a branch of the Bow River on the Hoodoo Trail instead (I should be clear: a group of intrepid students did go to the top of Sulphur that day and lived).
Mostly the scenery defeated me as a photographer, and it’s all been photographed to death anyway (you could see the mountains blushing with embarrassment).
But the people in my workshop were extraordinarily lovely — engaged, passionate, animated. We held workshops in the Max Bell building with my diagrams tacked up around the room like a frieze (occasionally a deer would look in the window to see what was what). But for individual manuscript sessions we met in the McLab café looking toward Mount Norquay in the distance.
And at night I’d go to bed listening to the train whistles (after all, that’s the reason the town is there in the first place — the trains). I make jokes, but I think I was ready for this trip.