A Short Fiction Story Inspired by a Photo
By C. K. Thomas
Squatting somewhere in the outback of British Columbia while dodging the draft, we came dragging with us the idea that peace, love and marijuana would see us through the toughest of times. Though young, ragged and ill-equipped, we managed to live off the grid up in the wilds of Canada for the duration of the Vietnam War.
Forty years later, we stand at the bottom of the hill by the lake looking up at what remains of the abandoned cabin we inhabited in 1967. I slipped my backpack off my shoulders and retrieved the camera from one of my hiking shorts’ plentiful pockets.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to take pictures looking uphill, but right now I don’t have the energy to walk another step to get closer,” I said to Jim who had already removed his pack and lay sprawled on the ground using his pack as a pillow.
“You’re right, no uphill pictures, but I’m not a bit tired. I’m just lying here looking at the sky to assess the weather. We might be getting some spotty sunshine right now, but from the look of those thunderheads it won’t be long until we’re getting seriously wet. Of course, I might have to lie here a bit longer to make absolutely sure of my prediction,” Jim grinned as he threw his arm across his eyes in a pose that suggested he wasn’t getting up anytime soon.
Back in ’67 frozen ground and the beginnings of a snow storm greeted us as we staggered up this very same steep hill toward the abandoned cabin that looked as if it might be a place where we could at least weather out the storm. We made ourselves at home within its sheltering walls and with a few feeble repairs to keep out the drafts, ended up staying for the duration of the war.
We survived our stay in rural British Columbia largely because we had stumbled upon the Slocan Valley where in the early 1900’s Russian pacifists had settled. We’d found a community sympathetic to our plight that welcomed us at first with much needed supplies and secondly with offers of employment among them. By the time the war ended we were so entrenched within the community that the thought of returning to the States during the Carter amnesty in 1977 held no appeal for us.
Jim and I married while in Canada, and you might say we grew up here because we certainly weren’t adults when we arrived. Today, I’m a stringer for a local newspaper in a small Canadian town many miles from the Slocan Valley, and Jim still does free-lance photography for magazines and newspapers. We’re both retired and very happy in the frozen north. When our own country sought to throw us into the jaws of an unjust war, Canada welcomed us, and we never forgot that welcome.
This trek to the “old homestead” reminded us just how far we’ve come since those days. We may be approaching old age, but this old cabin looks to be in far worse shape than us. Thankfully, it’s still early enough in the day to make our way back to our truck parked at the trail head.
As great as it is to reminisce, I’m not about to lay these old bones down in a sleeping bag on the dirt floor where we conceived our first child. “Those were the days,” and I’m very happy I don’t have to relive them. Just making it up here to explore the place where Canada refused to let war come between us is quite enough. Thank God and those plucky Russian pacifists for our adopted country!