Friday, April 9, 2010

Down by the River

Train Passing
Ellen Sereda

I'm still painting feathered creatures. I got a new camera last year, an entry level SLR. I'm not a materialistic person, but I have an attachment to this camera that borders on unhealthy. I love it so much, I think my kids feel in competition with it. They do however, think it's hysterically funny that I would rather give up all my clothes and be naked than give up my camera. I think I'm serious when I tell them that. The only thing that I've discovered that bothers me about my new camera, is that it didn't automatically make me a great photographer.

After shooting about 1000 pictures these past two weeks, I got maybe 15 good shots. I was so frustrated by my ineptitude, I blamed my surroundings instead of myself. I told myself I was hanging out too much in beautiful places. All these lakes and mountain vistas, I've been oversaturated by beauty, maybe I needed something grittier, more urban. I don't have anything urban in my commuter suburb town, but there is a run down area, by the train tracks and the river. When I told my husband I was going there to take pictures, he said with a smirk (and probably a little truth) , "watch out for the Hell's Angels".

My first time I went down by the river was years ago, just before Christmas. I received some kind of government cheque in the mail, wrong person, wrong address. Working in social services at the time, I assumed it was a welfare cheque. I felt terrible about the mistake and imagining some poor man with no money before Christmas and the hassle he would have to go through to get another cheque, I decided to hand deliver the cheque myself (I was naive and didn't know you weren't allowed to do that at the time).

I was surprised when I found the address on the map. I knew there was a shake and shingle mill and some run down businesses but I didn't think anybody lived by the river. When I got there, I discovered, nestled among a few industrial type shops were several houses. They were decrepit shacks that looked like they should have been condemned. I found the address and noticed two men in a wrecked car on the lawn, obviously strung out on drugs. I pegged it for a crack house and wanted to turn around but didn't because... I'm sort of stupid and a little determined sometimes.

As I was trying to muster up some nerve to get out of my car, a man walked out of the house, a big, mean and scary looking biker dude. I thought, oh God, look at him! he's killed people! I just know it, this is it, I'M GOING TO DIE TODAY. Nobody will hear my screams and oh, how convienient, there's the river! They don't even have to drive, they can just walk over and throw in my cold, lifeless, dead body.

The man didn't speak, he just stared at me suspiciously . I croaked out a weak "Hi, uh, are you _________? "

He nodded.

"Oh, well, ha, umm...I guess I got your mail by mistake, I thought you might need it" and screamed silently to myself, "PLEASE DON'T KILL ME!"

He took it, said nothing and left. As I drove away, calming myself down, I started to think, "I know that man from somewhere" but I couldn't place where it was I had seen him.

Several weeks later, passing by a lottery kiosk in a store where I often shopped, there he was. It was a picture of him that had been hanging there for about a year. He had the same suspicious, unsmiling expression as he held up a nice fat cheque in his hand. He had bought a winning ticket at the kiosk and won the lottery, a six figure sum.

What the hell was he doing living in that falling apart shack by the river, getting government cheques? I'll never know.

The riverfront is slowly changing. One day, probably sooner than later, the shacks and old shops will be gone and there will be ice cream kiosks, cafes and tourist shops where you can buy Indian dreamcatchers made by authentic white suburban housewives doing piecework while watching The View. People will take leisurely strolls down there with their families and their dachshunds and toy poodles. Until then, here are some of the pictures I took last week. The robin I painted above was there, looking a bit rough around the edges. But that's to be expected, he lives down by the river.


dinahmow said...

Authentic Indian dream catchers made by...underpaid Chinese,in China, more likely!

Nice robin.

Ellen said...

Surprisingly they really are made here. I know some of the women who made them, and it was almost me once. Whew, glad I didn't have to, I'm slow, I wouldn't make enough to buy a coffee and a danish.

paula said...

wow what a story!!!!! you were brave and i cant believe you would remember and recognize his face.
as an aside...about the camera and your lack of skill with it, makes me feel better. i took a photography class back in the 80's...learned how to shoot and develope/print my own film and i NEVER KNEW what i was doing. (like math story problems). to this day i have no clue. the digital camera i bought in 2004? i never even understand what program and automatic are let alone which buttons...that i've taken photos and put them in art that people buy in galleries AMAZES ME.

andrea said...

Thanks. Now I feel guilty about the dreamcatchers in my kitchen. (I made one while visiting a class taught by an aboriginal support worker and Carl gave me the other, so I have a good excuse.) My family is used to my adoration of my camera. They know that the only thing I've ever wanted more is a pony. :) As for your post and photos: awesomeness. Worth waiting for. I felt like I was listening to a Bruce Springsteen song. Are you sure this blog post isn't on "The River"?

BTW keep meaning to send you an email re. painting direction and our earth-shattering exhibition. Stop painting robins, though, because it's going to be called Corvidae. Are you with me?

Ellen said...

Paula, I was a bit apprehensive about writing this story, it's true and I think the picture is still hanging there. A few people around here knew who I was talking about because his looks are unforgettable. (I chose not to describe them, because I still think he's scary!) I still spot him around town every now and then.

Andrea-I like the word Corvidae, it's a shame so few species of them live around here. 4? I'll need to head to Hope and find some gray jays, or they'll find me more likely, cheeky opportunists they are. (everyone else, just ignore the geeky bird talk between Andrea and I:)

Rebecca S. said...

Loved this post, Ellen, and your painting of the robin and the train. I remember growing up in Nelson and the Satan's Angels would come through town every summer. My mom wouldn't let us go downtown during those times. Once, though, I was at the 7-11 down by the beach and some huge, scary-looking biker guy came in the store. I was buying something and had, at the time, a pretty wild red-dyed haircut. He came right up to me and I thought I was going to die when he lifted his hand over my head...and then brushed it over my spiky hair. "I like your hairdo," he said gruffly. Whew!

Ellen said...

Rebecca, funny story, (and I love Nelson!). Biker season is just around the corner. I'm not sure where you are exactly, but you must know of the Sasquatch Inn on Hwy 7? It was legendary with scary biker stories,I think it's changed now, renovated and prettied up. I never went there, don't know how many of the stories were actually true, but remembering when my daughter had to go to the bathroom on the way back from Harrison Hot Springs and I thought as we passed it, just HOLD IT, we're not stopping there!

Rebecca S. said...

I think the Sasquatch Inn burned down after it became the Harrison Crossroads Inn, but maybe I have the wrong place in mind. (I'm in Agassiz)
I love Nelson too. It was a wonderful place to grow up. Actually, my friend Antonia Banyard has a new novel coming out about Nelson (she grew up there too) called Never Going Back. She has a new blog that I have on my blog list, to promote her book if you are interested.