By Edward Hoagland. Douglas & McIntyre, 201 pp, $24.95, hardcover
New York City–born Edward Hoagland spent a good chunk of 1966 exploring the wild expanses of the B.C. Interior, eventually turning his observations into the 1969 book Notes From the Century Before—a classic of travel literature and an early, influential example of creative nonfiction. But even before Notes hit the stands he returned to the same terrain, thinking that he might be able to squeeze another opus out of its cache of rough-hewn miners, trappers, loggers, and vagrants. This he did—but Early in the Season: A British Columbia Journal isn’t it.
Hoagland’s B.C. adventures fuelled the creation of his novel Seven Rivers West, which, like the rest of the author’s fiction, has been eclipsed by his brilliance as an essayist. Early in the Season, however, is made up of Hoagland’s diary entries from the summer of 1968, during which he criss-crossed the mountainous landscape north and west of Prince George. And as such it has the usual flaws of journal writing: it’s occasionally self-obsessed and necessarily incomplete, and feels oddly sprawling for such a compact volume.
We learn a lot about Hoagland himself: his ambivalence about his marriage and impending fatherhood; his estrangement from both mainstream culture and ’60s counterculture; his self-consciousness over his habitual stutter. Yet, if we’re patient, we’ll learn even more about the wild nature of what, even today, is a foreign land to most B.C. urbanites.
Hoagland writes with a keen eye for flora and fauna, and an even keener ear for rustic hyperbole: one old sourdough recounts how pioneering winters were so cold “the smoke from the chimney had frozen into a pillar towering in the air, and they’d chopped that down and sawed it up and built a house out of the blocks, a real ”˜smokehouse’.”
Nobody tells stories like that anymore, unless they’re from the Yukon. The frontier was already moving north in 1968, while Hoagland’s fellow Americans were moving in. “The choicest property is being bought up,” he muses, “and now here I am, after even the myths.” We’re lucky, then, that those myths live on in this book—and, even more vividly, in Notes From the Century Before.