What makes Fernie special?

Technically, Fernie is my hometown. For all other purposes it’s Cokato, that weird little patch of farmland across the river from the Ski Hill that people think is named after a species of parrot, but isn’t.

Cokato is only a seven-minute drive from downtown, but when I was a kid the distance was unthinkably vast. The only way to get To Town was on your bike, and if you did that it would take thirty minutes of sweaty agony and you would be eaten by a cougar.

You just would.

Not to mention, you had no way of getting home when it was dark. So when I was a kid I thought of our farm and the trees and streams around it as my real hometown, and that is still what awes and comforts me about it today. It’s what makes Fernie special- it exists on a narrow line between the antics of human endeavour and the wordless, timeless core of nature. You can walk out your door in any direction and be humbled by what you see.

We’re lucky.

What makes you proud to be Canadian?

Our self-effacement. Plus, we’re the best dang country in the world!!!

(Also our clean water, clean air, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, adherence to human rights, mostly-functioning democracy, and ketchup-flavoured chips.)

What’s your Fernie story?

I was born and raised in Fernie, and I’ve lived here most of my life, except for a sabbatical of about ten years in the middle where I went off to Find Myself (it didn’t work).

My mom comes from a long line of coal miners who moved to Michel in the late 19th century. My dad’s a Scottish immigrant who met my mom at a staff meeting in the late 60’s (#romance) and decided to stay.

That’s it.

I should have something sweeping and grand to say about this town and how my story interweaves with it in a glorious tapestry of belonging, but I don’t.

Instead, I’m going to tell you a story about a sheep– because of all the ungulates, they have been the most integral to my Fernie experience.

It was September-the day before I was due to start my second year of university, and it was time to get serious. I had finally escaped my small town, I had survived my first year at school, I had weird, arty friends from distant, fabled cities like Calgary and Moosejaw, and this year for sure I was going to shed my rural shell and emerge like a beautiful, geeky butterfly. But, as I was about to realise, small town roots have a way of sticking around.

University was in Lethbridge, which meant many long drives in the USS Enterprise. That’s right. Other families had SUVs or minivans – we had a bright red utility van named after the spaceship in Star Trek. (We also had a crew cab manure truck called the Death Star. This is what happens when you let nerds have farms.)

The Enterprise was enormous and utilitarian-an un-insulated steel box on wheels that acted as a mobile chest freezer in the winter and a solar oven in the summer. Today, it was packed to the brim: me, my paltry belongings, my my mom, my dad, my brother, my brother’s manual wheelchair, my friend Erin (who, in a moment she would come to regret, had decided to get a ride with us rather than take the Greyhound), Erin’s luggage, and a 250 pound Corriedale ram named Steve.

Steve was going to Fort MacLeod to be traded for another ram, and, hopefully, to spend the rest of his life consorting with female sheep who weren’t as closely related to him as ours. By a stroke of luck, it turned out that the date of the exchange would coincide perfectly with my trip to Lethbridge. So, Steve was heaved onto a bed of straw in the back third of the van, separated from the rest of us by a sheet of plywood held in place with bungee cords.

We drove East.

It started out well. The Enterprise was running smoothly, the day was sunny, and Steve settled down once he had belched a few times and saturated his straw with nervous pee.

We stopped at Fort MacLeod and made the switch. The replacement ram (we’ll call him New Steve) was also pretty mellow. Or so we thought.

We finally arrived in Lethbridge, dropped Erin off, and turned into the parking lot of my new apartment building.

The second the van stopped moving, New Steve scented freedom. He stood up, wedged his nose into the space between the side window and the frame, and started bleating.

I should mention that this is an understatement. When people hear “bleat” they think of the sound sheep make in movies, that sweet, nasal m-eeee-h noise. There may be sheep that make that sound. They are not our sheep. A fully grown Corriedale ram has a chest cavity the size and shape of a half-barrel keg. It has resonance. It has gravitas. It sounds like a tuba made in hell.

It is also amazingly persistent. The sound of angry livestock blared out of our van like an awful, rustic car alarm. It went on, and on, and on, as my parents and I hauled all of my worldly belongings, piece by piece, through the main doors of my apartment building and up the tiny elevator.

People stopped and stared.  Japanese exchange students took pictures.

I wanted to die.

It turns out you can take yourself out of the valley, but you can’t stop the valley from following you to school. And bellowing at you in a parking lot.

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