Donna Kane begins her memoir with a drive up the Alaska Highway to Muncho Lake, where a float plane will fly her to a cabin on the shore of Mayfield Lake in British Columbia. She writes: "I was certain I'd lose my balance walking the plane's float to the wharf, as if I were crossing from one life to another and falling would confirm my recklessness."
She was in fact crossing from one life to another and her new lover, Wayne, was on the dock to hold out his hand. Other people accompanied Kane, as they were attending a one-week wilderness camp at Mayfield Lake, led by wilderness guide Wayne Sawchuk.
With her poetic powers of observation, Kane describes the pine valley next to the lake as "gimped by a leafless wind. It rasped the scorched bark, crisped coals flaking off while electric-green shoots broke through the charred earth." There had been a fire in the pine valley a few months before. "Arnica up first, its yellow petals so immaculate it startled, then poplar and pine and willow, all in a race to begin again."
After a twenty-five year marriage, Kane was beginning again. She had met Sawchuk at a book fair where they were both promoting their books. His was a book of photographs of the Muskwa-Kechika, a wilderness region in British Columbia's northern Rockies where he had led expeditions for over thirty years.
The terrain was new to Kane, as well as the relationship, and she was a novice horsewoman. "The first time Wayne introduced me to the horses, I spooked them," Kane writes. "I moved too quickly, I waved my hands in front of their faces." On the first summer on the trail through the boreal forests, Kane could see her own shyness reflected in a new foal called Chrissie.
Each of the book's essays moves Kane's story backwards and forwards through time. In the essay, "Summer of the Horse," Kane and Sawchuk are married and seven years have passed since they met. Her world is full with the upkeep of an old farmhouse, Wayne's clients, her own writing, and running the Sweetwater Arts and Music Festival she co-founded nearly twenty years before.
When a horse is seriously injured, a big sorrel gelding called Comet, she stays at home to tend to it. It becomes a period of reflection on how little time she has for her writing and how she is spending less time in the Muskwa-Kechika as she tends to the logistics of getting people and supplies in and out of the mountains on her husband's expeditions.
As she hoses Comet's wound every day and applies salve, she's curious to know "what it is to heal a wound." We can be grateful that Kane pushed on beyond her inner critic (about leaving a marriage and spending little time writing), to muse and write.
"I have always felt the pleasure of reflection," she writes in an essay entitled "The Gaze" in which she quotes poet Rainer Maria Rilke and although she says meditation makes her cranky, the writing in this essay, seems to be just that. There are several chapters that could be considered meditations including a fascinating one entitled "Wilderness." A bibliography of books she refers to and which have inspired her is included. And the book has several full-color photographs.
Summer of the Horse is full of the risks of entering new terrain. There's a healing of wounds, a beautiful honesty, and a sense of celebration and accomplishment as Donna Kane realizes she survived and "built a new and more solid foundation inside me, a foundation that gave rise to infinite possibilities, an endless rolling out of What next? And Why not?"
Donna Kane is a recipient of the Aurora Award of Distinction (2009) and is the current executive director of the Peace Liard Regional Arts Council and co-founder of Writing on the Ridge, a non-profit society that has, for over twenty years, organized arts festivals and retreats. She is the author of two poetry titles, Somewhere, a Fire and Erratic (Hagios Press, 2004 and 2007). She lives in Rolla, British Columbia with her husband Wayne Sawchuk. Visit her website.
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