Some friends hiked up the north slope behind our place a few weeks ago. When they came back down, they told us they thought a sasquatch might have been tracking them at the higher elevations. So Bigfoot was probably lurking in a corner of my mind when I picked up Eden Robinson’s The Sasquatch At Home last week at Terrace library.
I didn’t expect The Sasquatch At Home to have anything in common with another book I chose, Traveling with Pomegranates. Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor are from the southern United States. Their book is a travel memoir that explores Greek myths and icons of the Virgin Mary in Turkey and France. Eden Robinson is Heiltsuk and Haisla from Kitamaat Village on BC’s Northwest Coast. Her book is about the tension between traditional protocols and modern storytelling.
The unexpected similarities? Insights into the authors’ process of writing their first novel and a daughter’s pilgrimage with Mom. In Robinson’s case, the novel was Monkey Beach and the mother-daughter pilgrimage was to Graceland. “You should not go to Graceland without an Elvis fan,” Robinson advises. “It’s like Christmas without kids.”
The Sasquatch At Home (University of Alberta Press, 2011) reprises a talk Eden Robinson gave in 2010 as the 4th annual Henry Kreisel Lecture. Other speakers in this series include Joseph Boyden (A Mixed Blood Highway), Annabel Lyon (Imagining Ancient Women), Lawrence Hill (Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book) and Esi Edugyan (Dreaming of Elsewhere).
Reading The Sasquatch At Home occupied an informative and enjoyable hour, but the funny bits made me wish I’d heard it as a talk, because an opportunity to hear this “gritty” writer speak is a dozen chances to hear her laugh. If I were to write a list of sounds that make me happy, Eden Robinson’s laugh would be on it. The sample in the opening seconds of this 2-minute video only hints at it. To experience the depth and breadth of it is to lift off into a laughter-filled sky.
I heard Eden Robinson speak three years ago as part of the UNBC Northwest Public Presentation lunchtime series in Terrace. At the time she was UNBC’s writer in residence, a position now held by Mohawk/Tuscarora poet Janet Rogers. Robinson spoke, among other things, about the cultural restrictions that limit what she can write about. In Sasquatch, she talks about writing Monkey Beach:
I knew I couldn’t use any of the clan stories—these are owned by either individuals or families and require permission and a feast in order to be published. Informal stories that were in the public domain, such as stories told to teach children our nuyem, could be published—unless they had information people felt uncomfortable sharing with outsiders, such as spiritual or ceremonial content. I wanted a couple of scenes at a potlatch, but wasn’t sure what I’d have to do to have it included in the novel. A cousin of mine said although most traditional people were uncomfortable talking about the potlatch itself, what the people were doing or saying while the potlatch was going on was a different story. It turned out better for the story because I’d had three exposition-heavy pages that were reduced to a quick transitional paragraph, while the tensions between family members and the children playing around them, oblivious, came to the forefront.
I asked Robinson at the UNBC Terrace talk if she resented having limits imposed on her writing. She looked at me quizzically. Her answer, which I can’t remember closely enough to repeat, conveyed that she sees her responsibilities to her family and clan as intrinsic to who she is. In whatever ways those responsibilities limit her, she appears to accept them without resentment and thrive within them.
Tarot scholar Mary K. Greer might call that dancing on one’s limitations, or squaring the circle.♦ In her description of the major arcana card 21, The World, Greer notes that becoming conscious of our limits frees us to maximize our potential. She links this card’s meaning to spirit, to the earth and the physical world, to the mind, and to the emotions. In Robinson’s Haisla and Heiltsuk cultures, these elements are understood as inextricably connected.
In Haisla culture, b’gwus (wild man of the woods), as sasquatch are called, are believed to populate the Kitlope valley, an area of old-growth forest protected as a park since 1996 and as the Kitlope Heritage Conservancy since 2008. The Kitlope is considered part of the Great Bear Rainforest. B’gwus have clans with their own songs and feasts, Robinson writes. Her father was told by his mother that b’gwus might actually be exiles from Haisla villages who went to live in the Kitlope wilderness and over decades of isolation grew strange from loneliness.
The sasquatch up behind our house turned out to be a grizzly bear. (Our friend, on a subsequent hike, turned around when he heard a noise behind him and saw the grizz push over a big dead pine.) I haven’t seen a sasquatch yet, but then, neither has Eden Robinson. I wish I could hear her laugh when she recounts her dad’s theories for why she has not.
Look for The Sasquatch At Home at your local library or independent bookstore. And if you have the chance to hear Eden Robinson speak, don’t let it fly by.
♦ These are two interpretations of The World card that Mary Greer offers in Tarot For Your Self: A Workbook for Personal Transformation (2nd ed., 2002, New Page Books), a book that has been extremely helpful to me in my personal tarot work over the last twenty years.