Bruce Hunter's In the Bear's House

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

400 million years ago during the Devonian period, Alberta lay close to the equator and was covered by expanding and receding seas (Map: Lloydminster Heavy Oil)

400 million years ago during the Devonian period, Alberta lay close to the equator and was covered by expanding and receding seas (Map: Lloydminster Heavy Oil)

It’s the early 1960s and Will Dunlop is growing up in Ogden at the southeast edge of the city. The deaf boy everyone calls Trout is fascinated by the sea. His basement bedroom is a marine landscape he and his mother have painted aquamarine and dotted with pieces of fishing net, glass floats and his cherished collection of shells. From this refuge, Trout thinks about the world beyond his room, and another, ancient sea.

 

Above him, a small window and outside, the green laving of the lawn. Past the end of the street, the first farms on the edge of the city and behind them the raw bristle of brome, all that remained of the pale blonde prairie. Beyond the rising dunes of the foothills, the blue slopes of the Rockies, their edges snapped and jagged at the “moment” of upheaval, some twenty million years long. Themselves the wreckage of the Devonian seabed heaving thick plates of shale and limestone into the sky. In places, the shells and fossils of all the earlier seas littered some slopes with sea life so rich, it could be scooped up in delirious handfuls, like unburied treasure amongst the clouds.

Trapped six miles below his imaginary and silent ocean lurked the subterranean and tideless ooze of the Devonian Sea. Full of squashed marine life, darker and thicker than heavy syrup, toxic and exhilarating as any narcotic, pulled up in globular gulps by those mechanical tyrannosaurs, pump jacks, their obedient jaws smacking the ground. The domain of Trout at nine, and his future waiting to be lived and lost and escaped.

 

Bruce Hunter, In the Bear’s House (Oolichan Books, 2009)