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Cover: The Road to Appledore: Or, How I Went Back to the Land Without Ever Having Lived There in the First Place

The Road to Appledore: Or, How I Went Back to the Land Without Ever Having Lived There in the First Place

By Tom Wayman

Review By Shirley McDonald

April 25, 2024

The Road to Appledore is a reflection of Tom Wayman’s life in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. It is a collection of stories so personal that they resemble the conversations one might have with a lifelong friend, the kind of friend that no matter how long you’ve been out of contact, you pick up from where you’ve left off. I have met Wayman, but I don’t know him personally and I have few friends whose stories are crafted with the poetic poignancy that his stories have. The exception are the stories told by our mutual friend John Lent, with whom Wayman taught writing at Okanagan College decades ago. Wayman now lives in Winlaw, which is the location of Appledore. The first chapter comprises his adventures and misadventures as he transported his household possessions from East Vancouver to Winlaw. He writes that in the mid-nineties, he left the urbanity of the Lower Mainland to try his luck as a back-to-the-lander on the edge of the Crownland. He had grown up with amenities like central heating and municipal water, so the challenges of moving from the comforts and conveniences of a city to a house heated by a woodstove and supplied with water from a well and, at times, from a creek through a pipe, was not an experience for which he had prepared. No doubt, the defamiliarizing effect of his new environment fired his sensory organs. Thus, with his masterly wordsmithing, he presents the visceral details of his new life on the land.

As Wayman begins the memoir with an account of the road trip from East Vancouver to an acreage in Winlaw, his recollections are part history, part geography, and part musings on the struggles that inspired him to reinvent himself in a new land. Wayman’s details border on minutiae. His words provide a road map. At times, they beat out a walking rhythm as Wayman travels the highway, passing towns, reaching summits, leaving old familiar regions behind, and entering rich new biomes. His details are gifts. His exquisite view of the terrain creates a level of verisimilitude that parallels the richness of the volume. The first chapter concludes with a puzzling noise that Wayman does not identify. Thus, curious, the reader is motivated to keep going. When we turn the page, life has begun at Appledore.

In the next chapter, Wayman tells us that he has attained the kind of happiness that he experienced only as a child: the “pure enjoyment just of being alive” (31). He becomes immersed in the bliss of labour as he shapes the acreage into an embodiment of his imagination, and, amid descriptions of that labour, he intersperses discussions of literature and poetry, the work for which he is known. Indeed, Wayman received British Columbia’s 2022 George Woodcock Award for Lifetime Achievement in the literary arts.[1] He is inspired to write about labour, he explains, because “daily work [is] the central and governing experience of most people’s lives” (47). His hope is “to help reinvigorate an audience for poetry” that examines “the effects of our employment on our lives” (48).

Wayman describes his daily routine. He writes in the mornings and spends the rest of the day working on “the minor repairs and adjustments any house requires before it satisfies a new occupier” (48). The list of chores is endless. Each is appropriate to the season or required to maintain essential services such as a well pump, a fence, a light switch, or a wood stove and, as he describes his completion of them or, at least, his attempts, Wayman makes readers aware of the differences between country and city living. He explains that in the city, if one needs a certain screwdriver, a job is halted temporarily until the tool can be obtained. In the country, where shopping requires an hours-long drive to town, the absence of a tool results in the postponement of a chore’s completion, sometimes indefinitely if cash is in short supply.

Like the chores of keeping the well pump functioning and ensuring the provision of a huge supply of firewood for the long winter months in the valley, there are other kinds of labour that are driven by the seasons. Wayman divides his memoir into categories of seasonal chores. Spring and summer for him mean planting flower and vegetable gardens; fall means the changing of colours from green foliage to orange, red, and gold – the time to prepare for winter; and winter brings snow, the ongoing chore of clearing snow for accessibility, and the continuation of Wayman’s favoured activity, cross-country skiing. He writes that “endorphins from the exercise” prompt a “feeling of exhilaration”; yet he rejoices that just being outdoors in winter causes him to “feel in awe of the grandeur of the white mountains looming above” (188). Wayman is at his best when he describes the environment in which he feels truly alive. Likewise, when he writes about the elements, the details provide the greatest delight in the reading. He writes about the element of water – the gravity fed system and the well that supply his household water, and the springtime swelling of rivers and springs. He writes about fire – the warmth and comfort that his woodstove provides, and the discomfort induced by seasonal forest fires in the region – and he writes about air. Wayman’s descriptions are insightful as he explains the way that chimney smoke rises according to air pressure or changing weather, and as he recalls the scents of autumn, the “sweetly spicy odour of yellow birch leaves” that he’s “raked into a pile”; and the scent of spring daffodils and “of new growth: a green musk” (288). With the acumen of experience, he describes the sounds in the air and identifies the birds by their song, their twitter or cheep or whistle (289). He writes that “audible through the still winter air, besides the mallards’ familiar quacking, are occasional muted honks of the swans” and a “drumbeat [that] accompanies a couple of swans’ attempt to take to the air” (187). He writes about the earth and the flora and fauna of the region with details of smell, colour, texture, and sound that are exquisite.

But Appledore is no Shangri-la; there are pests, too, that share the air. With humour and wit, Wayman lists the “Bug of the Month”: ants, spiders, cedar bugs, stink bugs, and the “mozzies” that make “work outside … unbearable” without bug spray (293). While he may find pests annoying, he finds great joy in listening to the wind and again lifts the prose to poetic eloquence. There are laugh out loud moments, too, as he describes a marauding bear or the wild turkeys that roam the valley. Whether as a study of the human condition, a study of the intense labour of living on the land, or a study of the ecological niche that is the west Kootenays, Wayman’s The Road to Appledore is a pleasurable and illuminating read.

[1] 2022 George Woodcock Award

Publication Information

Wayman, Tom. The Road to Appledore: Or, How I Went Back to the Land Without Ever Having Lived There in the First Place. Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing. 2024. 312 pp. $26.95 paper.