Happenstance and good fortune have brought me to a town of thirty-nine people in Northern Saskatchewan. I’m here for work, having accepted a job directing the second season of a reality television show about the operation of a multi-million-dollar fishing resort. I know nothing about fishing, but luckily the producer told me he “doesn’t give a fuck about fish – I want to know about the people.” I know a little about people. Not a lot, but hopefully enough to get me through.
Northern Saskatchewan is all lake and forest and Canadian Shield – far from the flat prairie stereotype. As we were first driving up here, I ribbed my cameraman, a Saskatchewan native: “Hey! What’s with all the trees.” He laughed at my ignorance and so did I. It’s beautiful here. I’m grateful for the chance to be away, somewhere quiet, where increasingly dire problems that had been encroaching on my sanity in Edmonton can be left far, far behind. There is peace here.
When you find yourself staying someplace new, the first and most important order of business is to locate the coffee maker. Here, we are treated to bottomless cups of astoundingly weak, yet heart-warming, Tim Hortons coffee. It’s in the back room behind the kitchen where we take our staff meals (the film crew is considered “staff” for the duration of the shoot, meaning we eat with them and are given accommodation by the camp!). There is a red heart on my favourite mug in the break room. Inside the heart are the words “In The Heartland.” Then there’s a banner going across the heart, and on the banner it says “Country 800.” Below the heart are the letters CHAB, which are undoubtably the call letters of whatever country radio station commissioned this mug, but I like to think that the mug used to belong to a fellow named “Chab” because for whatever reason that’s funny to me and one really must make their own fun up here.
Over coffee and breakfast in the break room, I tell Justine, a charming young French-Canadian woman who splits the serving duties in the resort restaurant with her partner JP: “I want to be a writer, because I think if I could just sit and drink coffee all day I would.”
“Why don’t you?” she asks.
“I don’t have a very good imagination,” I say. “I can never come up with a plot.”
“We have something in common,” she says. “Not about having a bad imagination, but wanting to be a writer. And to make a living out of it…” she pauses to gasp in wonder at the prospect. We both know that such a life doesn’t have to be a fantasy – people can and do make a living with their words, even in the ‘download everything’ era. But making a life-of-letters a reality seems very far away, especially here where Justine is mopping floors and I am fabricating as much drama as possible out of mislabelled fish or the arrival of a country and western singer.
Still. Missinipe is already full of surprises.
Until next time.
Dylan – Missinipe, SK