Elizabeth Templeman lives at Heffley Lake, B.C. with her husband and three children. For twenty years, she has taught English as a second language at the University College of the Cariboo in Kamloops. She holds a B.A. from Cornell University, and an M.A. in English from Central Washington University. Her essays and book reviews have been published in various magazines and journals, have been read on CBC’s Richardson's Round-up, and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her first book, Notes From the Interior (Oolichan, 2003), is an examination of the synergy that occurs when immigrants make their home in a small, rural community. It combines essays, memoir, community history and personal reflections on daily life, art and marriage. ISBN 0-88982-220-4 $21.95
[Oolichan / BCBW 2003]
Notes from the Interior (Oolichan $18.95)
When Elizabeth Templeman settled in the interior of B.C., she’d barely heard of Calgary, Prince George or Vancouver. “I used to apologize for being American,” she recalls, “sensing that it was such an alien, undesired way to be, up here.”
After 20 years north of the border, Templeman issues no more apologies or disclaimers. A schoolteacher living at Heffley Lake (north of Kamloops) with her husband and three children, she’s combined community history with reflections on language, child-birth, marriage, farming and hockey in Notes from the Interior (Oolichan $18.95).
“We almost always listened to the CBC, the auditory source of my sense of things Canadian… I wouldn’t even wish to imagine life without having drunk mugs of morning coffee tuned to the national pulse as Morningside opened its phone lines… Or having pressed my face into the bark of a ponderosa pine to inhale its butterscotch fragrance… Or having glanced up from my kitchen sink at a room full of beer drinking guys yipping and cursing through Hockey Night in Canada.”
Notes from the Interior amounts to a modern-day pioneer journal. Initially she and her husband lived in a twelve-by-twelve plywood shack. “We had little money,” she says, “but thanks to the remainder of our wedding gifts we did have some beautiful dishes; evening might find us sitting on upturned buckets, eating lentil soup from crystal bowls.”
Like all rural homesteaders getting started, they had to fight the Canadian cold. “There were mornings when my husband’s quilted flannel work jacket, hung on a nail by the door, would have the same skiff of snow on the shoulders as when he’d hung it up—not a sight to inspire one back to work. One morning my contact lenses froze in their case and once I had to use a nail-puller to pry a box of pasta from the hoar-frost which had settled in along the lower three feet of each wall.”
In a piece called Studies in Silence, Templeman describes her relationship with a native student who walked into class, carrying his hockey bag. “I don’t spell so good,” he announced. “I got practice at two-thirty.”
They became friends, and he invited his teacher and his sister for dinner. “We went to an Italian restaurant,” says Templeman, “where he ordered me a glass of wine and himself a beer. ‘D’ya want a glass for your beer?’ the waitress grumbled in his direction. Not missing a beat, my friend replied, ‘Naw. Just bring it in a paper bag.’ We had finished our spaghetti long before I appreciated the full subtlety of that exchange.” 0-88982-220-4
I like watching pigs lined up at the trough—every couple of seconds one of them shoving out another, who struggles to insert himself at another place in the line—each one of them always and forever seeking the prime position for getting snout to slop (expecting, perhaps, the odd sampling of chocolate mousse or lobster bisque amid the daily repast).
Maybe it’s because they are so engaging that I also enjoy saving scraps for the pigs. It’s more than a matter of ecology. I like sorting the succulent vegetable peelings from the dry peel of onions: one for the pig bucket; the other for the compost. And I enjoy imagining their pleasure when I pour in the pickle juice, or the remains of a kid’s porridge with brown sugar. Composting is gratifying, but not nearly as much fun.
It’s hard to love an animal as dumb as a sheep seems to be. I once watched from my kitchen window as a ewe, stuck between two lines of cable connecting the antennae to our television, pushed again and again into the cable. I got distracted, only to discover, a full hour later, the same ewe, held fast by the same cable. She had only to take one small step backward to find freedom. The next week a sister of hers was as ridiculously trapped in my pea vine, a flimsy nylon affair. She had ripped it to shreds pushing her nose through one square of mesh, only to encounter another one. I never did forgive her for mutilating our first tender green peas of the season.
—Excerpt from Elizabeth Templeman’s Notes from the Interior