The woods: Lovely, Dark, Deep


I was asked to write about what it’s like to be here as artist. Not so much about how good the food is and how nice it is to have a daily housekeeping service (even when the housekeepers give you high-fives and ask you how the writing is going).

DarkSo I’ve been waiting for that experience – the one that would explain why this is a place where people understand when you say that something has just clicked, that the writing is going in directions you didn’t think it would take. The week had been marching steadily on, and I broke my meal plan. That is a Banff Centre experience: the walk of shame down to the Registrar’s Office. I have a theory: you need to eat many snacks because of the altitude. Regular trips to Le Cafe for brownies and coffee is all you can do to prevent a state of collapse between meals. Ask the Registrar’s Office to add money to your plan and include a snackage allowance and they just nod and smile, because they know just what you mean.

But that’s not an Experience, the capital-E moment that makes you feel like you were always meant to be a writer, that you’re doing the right thing.

I had that experience during my residency. Community Services is a hub for arts programs – you can goin and ask them about all manner of things. Need a tea kettle? They’ll hook you up. Printer? Got it. Need somebody to talk to? Check. They keep a list of events running through the week, and there was a sign-up for a night walk and bonfire with Ronna, a local guide and naturalist. I put my name on the list and turned up on Thursday night with my snowpants, all set. Maybe this would be the thing I’d write about, I thought.

Turns out the night walk was a trip down the Hoodoo Trail in the dark. No flashlights, no headlamps (they were in Ronna’s backpack). Just the light of the moon, and as we moved away from the Banff Centre and into the hills, the darkness moved in and took over. “Let your eyes adjust,” Ronna said, “feel the ground beneath your feet, and trust your senses.”

Something magical happened. The darkness took on a new quality. The trees creaked and whispered in the wind. Tunnel Mountain rose up on our left, but the shape was different; it cradled the sky. As we came down to cross the frozen river, Mount Rundle rose up to reach for the moon. The tip seemed to stretch towards it. The night was filled with silver light, and it started to snow, clouds drifting across the sky. I heard it. The sound of snow, crisply falling and hissing all around us.

Writer Heather Clitheroe.

They say that Banff is a healing, magical place. Ronna told me that the First Nations people would come here for that reason, that Tunnel Mountain is a place of visions and dreams. Standing there in the dark, listening to a silence no longer silent, delighting in the stillness and the strange, loving embrace of the mountains, I felt it. The capital-E experience. The moment when it all speaks to you, when you know why you came to the Banff Centre and why it’s such an important place for a writer.

Heather Clitheroe is a Calgary-based science fiction and fantasy writer whose work has grown and flourished with the support of The Banff Centre. Her work has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and she blogs at Her most recent work, Victoria Howard’s Retirement Card and Other Stories, is available as an ebook for Kobo and Kindle.


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  1. Pingback: Well, this is nice… « Lectio

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